04/14/2014 15:19 EDT | Updated 06/14/2014 05:59 EDT

Personal data stolen online from 1 in 5 U.S. internet users

As Canadians wait to find out if their social insurance number was among 900 stolen due to the Heartbleed bug, a new survey shows a big increase in U.S. internet users who have had personal data stolen online.

Nearly one in five U.S. internet users say bank account information or other personal data has been stolen from them online, say survey results released today by Pew Research Center. A similar number said their email or social networking accounts had been hijacked or compromised.

While the survey didn't poll any Canadians, Canadian internet users visit many of the same sites and conduct many of the same activities online as their American counterparts.

Pew Research Center asked 820 adult internet users in January if they had ever had "important personal information stolen such as your Social Security Number, your credit card, or bank account information" as a result of their online activities.

The answer was "yes" from 18 per cent of respondents – an increase of 63 per cent compared to last year, when just 11 per cent of respondents had experienced that kind of data theft.

Another 21 per cent responded "yes" when asked if an email or social networking account of theirs had ever been "compromised or taken over without your permission by someone else" – similar to the number who reported that last year.

The 820 internet users were among more than 1,000 Americans surveyed by cellphone and land line by the Pew Research Center in January. The results are considered accurate within plus or minus four per cent.

Mary Madden, a senior research at Pew research, said the increase in people reporting that their data was stolen could be due to a number of reasons. Part of it could be due to an actual increase in cyberattacks or data breaches, which often go undetected or underreported, she said. But part of it may also be due to an increased awareness that personal data can be stolen online, due to the highly publicized massive data breach at the Target retail chain and news about the U.S. National Security Agency's online spying activities.

Madden said the survey results released today are part of a bigger study underway about how experiences like having their personal data stolen affects the way people behave online.