Identity Theft Rated Primary Online Security Concern Among Canadians

Study indicates Canadians fear identity theft over virus attacks, spyware and spam, but are not familiar with “phishing” term

TORONTO, March 29, 2005 – Thirty-nine per cent of Canadians consider identity theft, such as having passwords and personal information stolen, to be their primary security concern online, according to a recent study commissioned by AOL Canada Inc., and conducted by Maritz Research. However, 64 per cent of Canadians surveyed were unable to accurately define the term “phishing” – the increasingly common practice of using fraudulent spam emails and fake corporate Websites to fool recipients into divulging personal financial data.

Phishing email messages can accurately mimic a legitimate source such as a bank or an online auction site. These messages notify recipients that an update is required to their account information and direct recipients to follow a link included in the email message. The link takes potential phishing victims to a Website where they are asked to provide personal account information, such as credit card, social insurance, password, date of birth and bank account numbers. Websites created to lure victims in a phishing attack may look identical to a valid site, but were set up by cybercriminals specifically to steal the personal information of unknowing Internet users.

According to AOL Canada’s Phishing Study, almost one out of every three Canadians surveyed have received an email from a company seeking confirmation of their account information. Alarmingly, 12 per cent surveyed admitted to clicking through an email link or URL to “confirm” their account information.

“Phishing is one of the most insidious kinds of cybercrime because of its sophistication. Even the most experienced Internet users are falling prey,” said Alex Leslie, Vice President of Technology, AOL Canada Inc. “Criminals trick users by building near-perfect replicas of legitimate sites such as those of banks and online retailers, often including forged trademarks, logos and Internet domains.”

“AOL works to anticipate new threats and proactively protect our Members from current and future threats to help give them peace of mind that they won’t fall victim to online criminals. We are committed to doing everything possible to protect Members from the financial and personal identity theft risks posed by malicious phishers.”

AOL Canada Makes Anti-Phishing a Priority

As part of the ongoing war on phishing and other forms of spam, AOL(R) uses a variety of methods to block unusual volumes of email from unknown sources. The global reach of AOL gives the company unique insight into spam trends and methods, and allows AOL to block a significant percentage of spam and phishing attempts on Members. AOL makes it easy for users to report suspected phishing attempts with a button built right into the AOL Mail application. At the end of 2004, AOL announced a 75 per cent decrease in the amount of spam on its network, as reported by Members.

AOL invented and uses a special “chrome mail” format to combat fraud by uniquely identifying official correspondence from the company. The “Official AOL Mail” messages include a special icon in the Member’s mailbox, a special colour when the mail is opened, and embedded branding in the message, to clearly denote the true source of the message. AOL has invested significant resources to educate Members about chrome mail.

AOL Canada also supports the Sender Policy Framework (SPF) standard to help authenticate legitimate email senders and block fraud. SPF allows ISPs to verify whether email appearing to originate from a specific source is legitimate. The Canadian Government’s Special Task Force on Spam adopted AOL Canada’s recommendation to use SPF and now supports the case that all Canadian registrants and hosts of domain names should adopt the SPF standard as soon as possible. AOL Canada was the first national online service to test SPF on its servers, in December 2004.

Additional Study Findings

  • Atlantic Canadians seem to have been victimized most, with 40 per cent of respondents having received suspicious emails asking to confirm their account information. Only 22 per cent of Quebec respondents reported having received similar emails.

  • Twenty per cent of email users in Atlantic Canada admitted to having learned about phishing the hard way, by clicking through the URL in a suspicious email. Only nine per cent in Manitoba or Saskatchewan clicked the link within phishing emails.

  • Regionally, 44 per cent of respondents in British Columbia reported they did not know what “phishing” meant, versus only 29 per cent in Quebec. However, 15 per cent of respondents in Ontario thought phishing was “just a cool way to refer to fishing,” as opposed to only two per cent in B.C.

  • In rating security, men and women differed slightly in their online priorities. Forty-two per cent of women versus 36 per cent of men rated identity theft as their number one concern. However, more men (22 per cent) than women (10 per cent) rated spyware or adware tracking their online habits as their primary online security concern.

  • The 50 and over audience was least familiar with the term “phishing,” whereas 26 per cent of 18-29 year olds were baffled by the term.

  • While Canadians list identity theft (39 per cent), viruses (31 per cent) and spyware (16 per cent) as major security concerns, they are less fearful of spam in general. Only nine per cent of respondents listed spam among their primary security concerns.


This study was commissioned by AOL Canada Inc. and conducted by Maritz Research. In total, 1,000 Canadians were contacted between February 10th and February 13th, 2005. All interviews were conducted among a random representative sample of Canadians. More specifically, the research focused on those Canadians with email addresses. With a sample of this size, results can be considered accurate to within +/- 4.56%, 19 times out of 20.

About AOL Canada Inc.

AOL Canada is a wholly owned subsidiary of America Online, Inc., which is the world’s leading interactive services company with more than 28 million members worldwide. AOL Canada provides enhanced Internet experiences to Canadians. Representing a portfolio of pioneering Internet brands including AOL, Netscape and CompuServe, AOL Canada Inc. continues to change and enhance the scope of what people can do online. AOL Canada is dedicated to helping people get more out of their Internet with new Internet innovations that offer more control, better security, more versatility and a more enjoyable experience.