Recent Identity Theft Statistics

Despite all of the attention given to the risks and dangers of identity theft, it appears that honest consumers remain a target for scammers. In fact, the number of identity fraud victims has increased for the second year in a row. The recent Identity Fraud Survey Report, recently published by Javelin Strategy & Research, estimates that the number of adults who were victims of identity fraud in 2009 was over 11 million, up from less than 10 million just a year before.

The  Javelin report also provides some other interesting information:

  • Although most people who are victimized by identity theft do not suffer any direct out of pocket expenses, those who did have direct losses lost an average of almost $400 apiece. Perhaps more significantly, the average time for an identity theft victim to resolve the fraud issues was 21 hours.
  • The three most common ways for a person to be victimized by identity fraud, once their personal information and identity have been compromised, are that the thief (a) makes purchases in person, (b) makes purchases online, and (c) makes purchases over the phone or through the mail.

The report also notes that it’s not just well-off adults who are at risk. Teenagers and younger adults are increasingly being targeted, and in many respects it’s easier for the criminals to do so.

The Threat to Young Adults and Children is Increasing

Because teenagers and younger adults share more information about themselves on social networking websites like Facebook and MySpace, criminals who target those individuals can often find personal contact information (or at least hints about how to get that information) with relative ease.

For example, some people use their pet’s name as a password or password reminder for website logins, so putting a picture of your pet (along with the pet’s name in the caption) gives the thief another thing to try when attempting to get into your accounts. In addition, many younger people are more likely to log-on to public “Wi-Fi” hotspots on their laptop computers, and this may expose their online activities (including passwords and other personal information) to criminals.

Even younger children are at risk. An earlier study by Javelin found that 5% of the children in their survey had a credit file associated with their Social Security Number. Three percent were actual victims of identity theft, and the remaining two percent were the victims of credit contamination. The children that had been defrauded had an average of $12,779 in fraudulent debt on their records.

Some of the individual cases are mind-boggling: one child had seven identities listed under his Social Security Number, and another child’s file showed over $325,000 in fraudulent debt. Shockingly, nearly one in eight of the victims was under the age of five.

Because this type of fraud is relatively new and not as well known as identity fraud against adults, it may be years before any wrongdoing is discovered. This makes it more difficult to remedy, and requires much more time and effort to do so.

You Can Be at Risk Even If You’ve Done Everything Right

According to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, through the first five months of 2010, there were well over 100 instances where a company or government had its records compromised, and personal information about some of its customers or clients stolen.

These incidents include the theft of personal information of over 500,000 customers from a BlueCross/BlueShield of Tennessee database, the theft of personal information (including Social Security Number) on 250,000 federal government employees and White House visitors, and the theft of personal information about over 200,000 people from a health insurance company in Florida. The criminals usually get this information by hacking the business database passwords or by stealing laptops and computer hard drives.

Even if the compromised information doesn’t include your Social Security Number or other financial information, the identity thief still might find it useful. Many times, people use the same password for many different websites, so if someone has the password you use for a non-financial website, they understand that there’s a good chance that same password might be the one you use for your online banking.

The statistics make clear that the problem of identity theft isn’t getting any better and isn’t likely to change any time soon. So, protect yourself.

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