Identity theft is a serious problem worldwide. This crime flourishes when thieves are given access to your personal information, allowing them to commit crimes under your name or spend your money unbeknownst to you. You may be under the impression that could never happen to you. You may be careful with whom you give your Social Security number to, or diligent about changing up your passwords for the sake of safety. However, identity thieves are getting smarter about how they access your information. The statistics revolving around identity theft are disconcerting, but with a better understanding of how these crimes continue to be committed, we can help lower the rate of identity theft and prevent ourselves from becoming another statistic.
The United States Department of Justice states that in 2010, 7% of all United States households had at least one member of the family at or over the age of 12 who has been a victim of some sort of identity theft. That means the odds are greatly against you. Identity theft sets the government, American citizens, and businesses back by billions of dollars each year. From 2005 to 2010, 64.1% of these instances involved credit card fraud, the fastest growing type of identity theft. Over the range of this time period, credit card misuse was doubled as the determining factor in identity theft.
According to Time Magazine, 2.5 million dead people get their identities stolen every year. Studies conducted by have shown that identity thieves have been applying for credit cards under the names of the deceased, opening up clean credit lines, new cell phone services, and in a staggering 1.6 million cases, using Social Security numbers previously belonging to dead people. This can be devastating for family members of the deceased who have been left to manage his or her estate. More than 2,000 identities of corpses per day are assumed by these fraudsters.
With a 13% increase in identity fraud between 2010 and 2011, a study conducted by showed that consumers may be putting themselves at a higher risk for identity theft as a result of their increasingly intimate social media behaviors. Sixty-eight percent of people with public social media profiles on platforms such as Facebook or Twitter shared their birthday information with 45% of them getting into specifics about the exact month, day, and year. Sixty-three percent shared where exactly they attended high school. Eighteen percent shared their phone number and 12% shared their pet’s name. Not only are all of these details typically asked when verifying an identity, but people also frequently use them in passwords. The statistics are clear — people are giving away far too much personal information on social networking sites, allowing for fraudsters to easily steal their identities.
According to the findings from a study conducted by the Federal Trade Commission, 19,428 complaints regarding medical identity theft have been reported to the Consumer Sentinel Database since January 1, 1992. Prior to that, medical-related identity theft was not documented, so there may have been many more instances of it that simply went unreported. Likewise, the number of medical identity theft victims rose from 1.6% in 2001 to 1.8% in 2005. Medical identity theft can be distressing to its victims, who often incur charges for medical care they didn’t even receive after their computerized medical records are stolen. A large chunk of these victims experienced raised premiums as a result of medical identity theft, with almost half losing coverage entirely. Medical identity theft is more of an insider crime, as it is typically done by a health care professional. It may be committed by doctors, nurses, lab technicians, and others associated with the hospital. Part of the reason that medical identity theft is made possible could be because almost half of seniors carry their Social Security card or Medicare card in their wallets, which is a risky place to keep such valuable information.
The United States Department of Education encourages college-aged students to be particularly aware of identity theft. After they conducted a recent survey, the Department of Education found that 48% of the students that participated in the survey admitted to leaving personal information out in their dorm rooms, some of which was financial in nature. Thirty-one percent of these students were burglarized or knew someone in the building who was burglarized, which means that their personal information could have been compromised. Identity thieves look to college-aged adults because they often have good, clean credit scores, making them an ideal target. On college campuses, Social Security numbers are often used for identification purposes. For example, a student may use their social to register for classes. With such easy access to your Social Security number, an identity thief has all the information they need to commit their crime. Lastly, college students are not as attentive to their banking accounts and private information, which buys the identity thief valuable time with your funds at hand.
The Consumer Federation of America works with commercial providers of identity theft services to figure out ways to keep people safe from identity theft. According to a 2012 it released examining ways these services could be bettered, customers most commonly complained about the service’s lack of addressing misleading trial offers. Free trials are everywhere, offering a week or months’ worth of Weight Watchers, Netflix, or Proactiv face wash. However, customers complained that the identity theft protection sites themselves were unclear as to the trial offer stipulations. The problematic part is that customers often forget to cancel these temporarily “free” subscriptions, or they don’t realize they need to cancel, and then charges begin to accrue in their accounts from a service they may not even use. Customers feel this may as well be on par with the stealing that occurs via identity theft. So, even sites that help protect against identity theft may be draining your funds via an unclear trial offer scheme.
According to the Federal Trade Commission’s 2006 Report, while 50% of all identity fraud victims accrue little to no out-of-pocket charges for the legal fees, lost wages, and false payments brought upon them during the fraud, a small bracket of 10% of all identity theft victims incur considerable out-of-pocket expenses. This can be upwards of $1,200. This is most commonly the case when fraudsters use a false identity to open new accounts. The top percentile of these victims lost as many as $3,000, an unsettling amount to personally lose as a result of identity theft. Few things leave a person feeling more vulnerable and taken advantage of. Likewise, resolving identity theft crime isn’t easy. Ten percent of all victims spend 55 or more hours sorting out their problems, while the top 5% spend at least 130 hours.
Since children have perfectly clean backgrounds, no real credit score to speak of, and their parents don’t think to monitor the status of their identity, they make easy targets for identity theft. The main reasons fraudsters use child identities is to administer illegal immigration, steal, and wipe clean the credit scores of a loved one by utilizing that of a child in their place. Sadly, this can have negative effects on the child’s credit down the line, and they could have trouble securing student loans, getting a decent job, or even purchasing a cellphone. In a study conducted by Carnegie Melon’s CyLab, 10.2% of the children reported that someone else had used their Social Security number fraudulently. The worst of these accounts was toward a 16-year-old girl who had reported fraudulent charges of $725,000 under her name.
According to the Consumer Sentinel Network’s 2011 report, 57% of identity theft victims notified a police department, resulting in a police report. Six percent notified a police department, but did not have a police report filed, and 7% notified the police but were unsure as to whether a report was filed. This leaves an alarming 30% of victims who didn’t bother to notify the police at all. In order to get ahold of the problem of identity theft, victims need to be proactive about stopping thieves with police intervention. Otherwise, the crime will perpetuate, as it is easy to get away with and can strongly benefit the thief.