Just in time for Halloween, famed polling agency Gallup has released the latest results of its long-running annual survey of American fears about crime. For the first time, hacking tops the list of the things respondents were most concerned about, far surpassing every other type of meatspace crime. Specifically, 69 percent of those surveyed said they were "frequently or occasionally" worried about "having the credit card card information [they] have used at stores stolen by hackers." And almost as many, 62 percent, were "frequently or occasionally" worried about having personal information stolen from their computer or smartphone. In contrast, less than half of respondents (45 percent), were worried about their homes being physically burglarized and 18 percent were worried about getting murdered.
The survey was conducted earlier this month by telephone (landline and mobile) on a random sample of 1,017 adults chosen across all 50 states and the District of Columbia, as Gallup explains. The fact that hacking topped the list probably shouldn't come as a surprise given the massive hacks of celebrity photos just a few months ago and the continued hackings of major American retail chains and theft of shoppers' credit card information, all of which have been very well publicized. At the same time, this was the first year that Gallup asked all survey respondents about their fears of being hacked (they asked some of them a similar question back in 2013), so there's no historical data with which to put these results in context. Americans may have harbored fears of being hacked above all other crimes for years now, but we wouldn't really know it from Gallup's latest results.
The real question is whether the prevailing fear of being hacked is warranted. Compared to other crimes, it probably is: rates of violent crime have been decreasing markedly since a peak in 1993, according to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics. Comparable cybercrime statistics don't go back as far and haven't been collected as regularly, but the same agency took cybercrime surveys in 2001 and 2005 and found that 67 percent of businesses that responded detected at least one cybercrime in 2005 and 74 percent reported being victims of cybercrime in 2001. Other government surveys have found more steady increases in cyber incidents in the past two decades. Complaints of identity theft are also generally on the rise, according to government statistics. While it's difficult to quantify an individual's risk to certain types of crimes without incorporating their own unique habits and proximity to criminals, there's plenty of guidance out there about how to secure your electronic devices from hackers. Still, if you're looking for a last-minute Halloween costume, dressing up as a hacker may not be the worst idea.