February 14, 2008, 12:00 AM

The web is less risky than phone or mail for identity theft, survey finds

40% of fraud victims who knew their data was stolen as a result of a transaction said it was via a phone or mail purchase. Only 9% said it happened online, a Javelin Strategy and Research survey finds.

Despite media hype about Internet security, traditional communications channels pose the biggest risk of theft of personal and financial information, according to the 2008 Identity Fraud Survey report from Javelin Strategy and Research.

Online access-including online purchases and transactions at 2%, phishing at 4% and computer viruses, spyware and PC hackers at 8%-together were the source of 14% of cases of identity fraud among fraud victims who knew how their information had been obtained, according to Javelin’s annual survey.

In line with trends in previous years’ surveys, physical methods and venues accounted for three-fourths of the known sources of identity theft. Lost or stolen wallets, checkbooks or credit cards represented 33% of known sources’ of identity theft. Stolen paper mail represented 6%; theft by friends, acquaintances or in-house employees represented 17%; and thefts involving in-store, mail or telephone purchases and transactions represented 23%. Data breaches and other methods represented the balance of known identify theft methods.

Those figures represent how personal and financial information was accessed among the fraud victims able to determine how it was accessed. Among those who reported that that their information was stolen during a transaction, mail and telephone transactions accounted for more leaks than online transactions did, the survey found. In this year’s survey, 40% of those whose information was fraudulently obtained during a transaction reported that it was a mail or telephone purchase, a huge increase from the 3% who said so in last year’s survey. By contrast, only 9% of those whose personal information was stolen during a transaction said it had happened during an online purchase, down from 20% who said so last year.

The increase in identity thefts as the result of mail and telephone transactions on one hand and the drop in identity theft during online purchases on the other are due in part to measures on the part of payment services providers and retailers to boost the security of online transactions. “As consumers shift more financial transactions to secure online arenas, fraudsters have become more creative in utilizing traditional telephones, both land lines and wireless, to access information,” according to the report.

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