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A Fate Worse Than Death

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In the hierarchy of mishaps that would harm their family's finances, consumers believe identity theft slightly outranks death. (Of course, death has other disadvantages.)

An Ipsos Public Affairs poll, conducted for ING, found 50 percent saying it would have an "extremely negative effect on their family's financial health and future" if they had their savings stolen though identity theft or fraud. Forty-five percent said their own death or that of a spouse/partner would have such a dire effect. Fewer said the same about serious illness or disability (41 percent), a lack or loss of health insurance (40 percent), loss of a job (39 percent) or a divorce (34 percent).

Reflecting the fact that relatively few people have vast personal fortunes in the equity markets, just 22 percent said a stock-market crash would have extremely negative repercussions for their family's finances. Conversely, though a majority of American adults are homeowners, even fewer -- 12 percent -- said falling home prices would affect their own household so adversely.