Online banking is convenient and saves consumers and financial institutions time and money, but a new study from security software vendor Avira makes it clear that despite these benefits, most people are too concerned about being ripped off to give it a shot.

For its survey, Avira asked all its customers to characterize how they feel about using their PCs and mobile devices to access bank accounts and other financial institutions online.

31 percent of the 3,127 respondents said they never do their banking online because of security concerns and instead go to a physical bank branch to conduct their transactions.

Another 48.5 percent said they do some online banking, but still are "concerned" about the increase of Internet crime.

That means only 20.5 percent of those queried said they took advantage of the conveniences afforded by online banking and logged on to their banks' websites without fear.

"It’s a good sign to learn that almost half of the people we polled at least had some concerns with banking online and eye-opening that almost one out of three just didn’t practice online banking in any form whatsoever," Sorin Mustaca, data security analyst at Avira, said in the report. “This proves that financial institutions have a long way to go before they persuade most of their customers to trust doing business online."

Because the media, law enforcement and security software vendors have done such a good job warning of and documenting numerous high-profile phishing campaigns and other malware scams designed to steal banking information and passwords, the public is understandably wary of putting their most valuable information and assets at risk to save a trip down to the local bank branch.

In September, the FBI, the New York Police Department and the U.S. Secret Service orchestrated a sting operation that took down a sophisticated phishing syndicate based in Eastern Europe that was responsible for stealing more than $3 million from U.S. customers' bank accounts.

The crew's modus operandi was to conceal a Zeus Trojan in attachments contained in unsolicited emails that, once opened, allowed the crooks to swipe passwords and login credentials to victims' accounts. Once they got into the accounts, they were able to wire funds to other accounts they controlled and, eventually, withdraw the funds from ATMs around the world.

Earlier this year, the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG), a consortium of Web retailing, software, security and financial institutions working together to eradicate online fraud, identified more than 126,000 fake websites created solely for the purposes of snaring unsuspecting users' banking information.

Security software vendors, non-profit consumer protection groups and law enforcement agencies routinely issue advisories to keep people abreast of the latest online scams circulating the Internet but, as is the case with most crime, they're often a step or two behind the bad guys.

"The software security industry has to do more in this area to ensure safety online," Avira's Mustaca said. "We must give to all Internet users the freedom to do whatever they want to do without fear."

Avira and other security software vendors advise anyone conducting transactions online to avoid opening any attachments in emails, avoid unfamiliar websites, ignore requests to install applications from unknown sources and never share financial information and details like Social Security numbers in an email.

Larry Barrett is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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