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Guns don't scare people, hackers do: Americans fear identity theft more than shooting sprees

Citizens know their stats

A survey into what Americans fear most has shown that fears of identity theft and being unsafe online outweigh the fear of being shot.

The poll of 1,500 Americans conducted by Chapman University in Orange, California, found that walking alone down a dark street is the situation that has Americans most fearful – beating the fear of identity theft in second place, and the fear of being unsafe online in third place.

Fourth on the list was getting shot in a mass shooting or by a random gun owner. Fear of public speaking came in fifth.

Given the spate of hacked shop registers and customer databases in the US, those polled are not wrong.

When survey participants were asked about things that concerned them, however, rather than what actually induced fear, identity theft got the top spot. And corporate surveillance of their online activity came in second place, ahead of running out of money. Government surveillance was in fourth place, followed by becoming sick – which, given the lamentable state of US healthcare and its extortionate cost, is not surprising.

Another unusual finding was that Americans fear crime much more than they should. Fears of violent crime are increasing, with more than four out of five US citizens thinking that school shootings are on the rise and over half believing gang violence and crimes against children are more common than they were 20 years ago – when, in fact, the opposite is true.

"What we found when we asked a series of questions pertaining to fears of various crimes is that a majority of Americans not only fear crimes such as child abduction, gang violence, sexual assaults and others; but they also believe these crimes (and others) have increased over the past 20 years," said researcher Dr. Edward Day.

"When we looked at statistical data from police and FBI records, it showed crime has actually decreased in America in the past 20 years. Criminologists often get angry responses when we try to tell people the crime rate has gone down."

A lot of this is the media's fault, the study concluded. Survey participants who watched a lot of television were generally more fearful than those who didn't, and this was particularly true if they watched a lot of true crime programming and talk TV. Low levels of education were also correlated with being more fearful.

That said, even educated Americans are being very dumb about other fears. When it comes to natural disasters, the top fear is tornados, followed by earthquakes (particularly in California) and floods. But the survey found that almost three quarters of those polled had made no preparation for such disastrous events, even in areas where they are relatively more common.

"Our research indicated that Americans are aware, but better communication strategies are needed to encourage the nearly 75 percent who are unprepared for catastrophe," said Dr. Ann Gordon.

"We are conducting follow-up studies to examine why so many Americans remain unprepared despite lessons learned from recent natural disasters. And, we are also taking a closer look at 'preppers' – a community that takes preparedness to the extreme." ®

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