Nine percent of US internet users have lost money on email scams, according to a recent survey.
"We didn't expect it to be 9%, we expected it to be a lot lower than that," says Marcel Nienhuis, a senior analyst with market research firm The Radicati Group, which conducted the survey.
Nienhuis defines an email scam as "any email whose intent is to trick somebody out of money". The survey, however, left it up to respondents to define a scam, just asking: "Have you ever lost money to an email scam?"
When the respondents were asked what kind of scams and spams they receive most often, the marketing of prescription drugs, financing services, pornography and Nigerian fraud and phishing scams were on the top of the list.
Analyst firm Ferris Research also studies consequences of online fraud. The company was not involved in Radicati's online survey but says the results are in line with its own findings.
"The results are reasonable, maybe slightly at the high side," says Richi Jennings, a practice leader for spam and boundary services at Ferris and an independent consultant.
"Up until recently, the user education has been really, really poor," Jennings says. "I watched CNN not long ago where one of the top three advices to protect yourself from scams was 'Don't open email from people you don't know.' The power of branding and recognition is exactly what spammers and scammers make use of."
Jennings and his colleagues at Ferris Research predict that spam and phishing will be gone in a couple of years, thanks to antispam software, education and legislation. "But the online scams will stay. We already see spam and scams moving to other media such as blogs, wikis and distorted search engine queries."
The reason is, not surprisingly, money, says Jennings. "Fundamentally, people are greedy. You get fooled because you want to make money."
Radicati's Nienhuis believes that most people will only be a victim of an online scam once. "Until it happens to you, you have the impression that it is a danger but that it doesn't really apply to you. Once you're tricked, from that point forward on, you're probably going to be pretty cautious to what's coming in your inbox."
The Radicati Group study of 791 users was conducted online in April and was commissioned by Mirapoint, a vendor of email appliances that block spam and viruses.