SAN FRANCISCO -- News of Internet security breaches at eBay, Target and other large companies appears to be having an effect on online habits.
A USA TODAY survey finds that almost a quarter of Americans have at least temporarily stopped buying online because of security concerns.
A full 24% of those surveyed said they had stopped buying anything online in recent weeks because they were concerned about the safety of information they might put online.
Most surprisingly, 56% said they had cut back on the number of Internet sites they used and were only going to large, well-known companies they were confident were safe.
"It's pretty amazing to me that people were willing to pull the plug on their habits," said Cameron Camp, a security expert with ESET, a San Diego-based security and antivirus company.
When Lisa Tecarr, 49, from Zephyrhills, Fla., says she does 90% of her shopping online. When ordering diapers for her grandkids or treats and toys for her dog, she uses prepaid cards instead of a credit card.
"I just think it's safer," said Tecarr, a childcare provider and student at Grace Bible College.
Yolanda Machado, a blogger and freelance writer from Los Angeles who shops for everything but groceries online, says she has made a habit of changing her passwords every few weeks and never stores her credit card information even on websites she shops frequently.
"If you put something on the Internet, you might as well be putting it on a billboard," Machado, 35, said. "Nothing is ever secure. You have to take active measures to ensure your own security."
The poll found that users are also keeping a closer eye on their accounts, with 55% saying they had started checking banking, investment and credit card sites more often for signs that someone had hacked into their accounts.
Camp counseled that any survey asking about things people feel they should be doing has to be taken with a grain of salt. "Some of the answers people give are aspirational rather than factual," he said.
Whether the more cautious behavior will necessarily last is another question. "It's kind of like being a on a diet," Camp said. "You're on good behavior for awhile and then you return to whatever you were doing before."
The poll found that people with less education and lower-incomes were more likely to stop buying anything online. Those with more education and higher incomes were more likely to have changed passwords and cut back on the sites they use.
Thirty percent of people who had not attended any college had stopped buying online, compared to 16% of those with college degrees.
Of people with incomes under $30,000, 34% had stopped buying online compared to 15% of those with income of $75,000 or more.
Sixty-four percent of those surveyed said they had changed a password in response to security breaches.
Higher incomes and more education were linked to changing passwords. Sixty-six percent of those with college degrees and 73% of those making $75,000 or more, had changed passwords, compared to 56% of those with no college and 55% of those with incomes under $30,000.
Men were more are more likely to have changed passwords than women, 69% compared to 59%.
Seniors were least likely to have changed passwords, with only 47% having done so.
In Los Angeles, Machado says her less tech savvy friends were "pretty much flipping out" over recent security breaches. She advised them just to be more cautious.
"I mean, at Christmas, chances of being robbed are increased, but do we leave our purses and wallets at home? No. We just do things like shop in pairs, in lit areas etc. So we have to change our passwords and actually be on top of our accounts, I'm OK with that," she said.
The USA TODAY poll of 790 internet users was conducted May 29-June 1 by Princeton Survey Research, with a margin of error of +/- four percentage points.