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Identity Theft by the Numbers

An FTC survey breaks down the statistics on identity theft

By Susan Hindman

Identity theft has given rise to concern and vigilance—and led to an uptick of paper shredding—over the past decade, but the perpetrators seem to remain a step ahead of our best precautions. In November 2007, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a survey showing that 8.3 million American adults, or 3.7% of all American adults, were victims of identity theft in 2005.  

Let’s look at the problem by the numbers:

  • The accounts: Of the victims, 3.2 million experienced misuse of their existing credit card accounts, 3.3 million experienced misuse of non–credit card accounts, and 1.8 million found that new accounts were opened or other frauds were committed using their personal identifying information. Seventeen percent of all victims said that their personal information was used to open at least one new account. The two most common types of accounts that thieves opened were telephone service accounts (landline and wireless, 8%) and credit card accounts (7%).
  • Other ways identity was used: Twelve percent of victims reported that their information was misused in other ways. Five percent said that their name and/or personal information was given to the police when the thief was stopped or charged with a crime. Three percent said that the thief had obtained medical treatment, services, or supplies using their personal information. One percent reported that a thief misused their personal information to rent housing, obtain government benefits, or get a job.
  • Amount defrauded: In at least half of all incidents, thieves obtained goods or services worth $500 or less. This was the case when the theft was limited to the misuse of existing accounts. Where the thieves opened new accounts or committed other frauds, the median value of goods and services they obtained was $1,350. In 10% of cases, thieves got at least $6,000 worth of goods or services.
  • The cost to resolve it: In more than half the incidents, victims incurred no out-of-pocket expenses. Ten percent of all victims reported out-of-pocket expenses of $1,200 or more.
  • Time lost: The median time spent by victims resolving problems created by the theft was four hours. Ten percent of victims spent at least 55 hours resolving their problems, and half of those spent at least 130 hours.
  • Determining the thief: Only 43% of all victims were aware of who took their information or how it was stolen. Of these, 16% said it was stolen by someone they knew personally: Six percent cited family members or relatives; 8%, friends, neighbors, or in-home employees; and 2%, someone with whom they worked. Other victims reported their information was stolen during a transaction conducted in a store, while online, or through the mail.
  • How long it took to discover: About 40% of victims whose identity theft was limited to the misuse of existing accounts discovered the misuse within one week of when it began. In contrast, nearly a quarter of victims of new account and other frauds did not find out about the misuse of their information until at least six months after it started.
  • Subsequent problems: Thirty-seven percent of victims reported experiencing problems such as being harassed by debt collectors, being denied new credit, being unable to use existing credit cards, being unable to get loans, having their utilities cut off, being subject to a criminal investigation or civil suit, being arrested, and having difficulties obtaining or accessing bank accounts. When thieves opened new accounts and committed other frauds, victims were more than twice as likely to report having one or more of these types of problems than when thieves misused existing accounts.

For more information about the results of the study, read “FTC Releases Survey of Identity Theft in the US: Study Shows 8.3 Million Victims in 2005. More reports are available at the FTC Web site.

In addition to the FTC study, the Center for Identity Management and Information Protection (CIMIP), a research collaborative, published a first-ever study of closed U.S. Secret Service cases involving identity theft. CIMIP reviewed 517 cases that occurred between 2000 and 2006. Among the findings:

  • More than a third of the victims were financial industry organizations: banks, credit unions, and credit card companies. Individuals accounted for 34.3% of the victims.
  • Approximately one third of the cases involved identity theft through employment, 43.8% of those in retail establishments (stores, car dealerships, gas stations, casinos, restaurants, hotels, and hospitals).
  • Fifty-nine percent of the victims did not know the offenders; only 5% of the victims were related to the offender.
  • A little more than 42% of the cases involved two to 45 offenders.
  • Almost 43% of the offenders were between the ages of 25 and 34, 18.5% were between 18 and 24, and only 6% were over 50.
  • Seventy-one percent of the offenders had no arrest history.

Published June 25, 2008

Susan Hindman
Silver Planet Feature Writer

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