The Federal Trade Commission today released a survey showing that 8.3 million American adults, or 3.7 percent of all American adults, were victims of identity theft in 2005. Of the victims, 3.2 million, or 1.4 percent of all adults, experienced misuse of their existing credit card accounts; 3.3 million, or 1.5 percent, experienced misuse of non-credit card accounts; and 1.8 million victims, or 0.8 percent, found that new accounts were opened or other frauds were committed using their personal identifying information.
"Whether you're from Malibu or Manhattan, Tacoma or Tallahassee, no one is immune to identity theft," said Lydia B. Parnes, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "The important thing is that people learn how to deter identity thieves, detect suspicious activity on their financial records, and defend against the crime, should it happen."
The survey found that the costs associated with identity theft varied widely. The survey first looked at the value of the goods or services that the thieves obtained using the victims’ personal information. In at least half of all incidents, thieves obtained goods or services worth $500 or less. In 10 percent of cases, however, thieves got at least $6,000 worth of goods or services.
The survey also gathered information about victims’ out-of-pocket expenses resulting from the theft of their identities. In more than half of the incidents, victims incurred no out-of-pocket expenses. Some victims, however, incurred substantial out-of-pocket expenses – 10 percent of all victims reported out-of-pocket expenses of $1,200 or more.
In addition, the survey asked victims to estimate the amount of time they spent resolving problems caused by the theft. The median time spent resolving problems by all victims was four hours. Ten percent of victims, however, spent at least 55 hours resolving their problems, and half of those spent at least 130 hours.
The survey found that thieves obtained more goods and services – and victims spent more time and money recovering – in cases where the thief opened new accounts rather than only hijacking existing accounts. Where the theft was limited to the misuse of existing accounts, the median value of goods and services obtained by the thieves was less than $500. Where the thieves opened new accounts or committed other frauds, the median value of goods and services they obtained was $1,350.
Thirty-seven percent of victims reported experiencing problems beyond the time they spent recovering and their out-of-pocket expenses. These problems included 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 only existing accounts.
Seventeen percent of all ID theft victims said that their personal information was used to open at least one new account. The two most common types of accounts thieves opened were telephone service accounts (including both land-line and wireless phone accounts), reported by eight percent of victims; and credit card accounts, reported by seven percent of victims.
Eighty-five percent of all ID theft victims reported that one or more of their existing accounts had been misused, including credit card, checking, or savings accounts; telephone service accounts; internet payment accounts; e-mail and other internet accounts; and medical insurance accounts.
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 of victims 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.
Approximately 40 percent 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 one-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. In cases where they discovered the misuse more quickly, victims reported lower out-of-pocket losses and thieves obtained less.
Fifty-six percent of all victims were unable to provide any information on how their personal information was stolen. The 44 percent who did provide such information included 16 percent of all victims who said that their information was stolen by someone they knew personally. Victims who reported a personal relationship with the thief mentioned three types of relationships: six percent of all victims cited family members or relatives as the thief; eight percent cited friends, neighbors, or in-home employees; and two percent cited someone with whom they worked. Because most victims do not know how their information was compromised, these numbers may under-represent the actual percentage of victims who had a personal relationship with the individual who stole their information.
"Consumers have great tools at their disposal in their fight against identity thieves," Parnes said. "For example, the law gives every consumer the right to get their credit report for free once every 12 months from each of the three national credit reporting companies (see www.annualcreditreport.com) Monitoring your credit report periodically is one valuable way to check for activity that you didn't authorize. Another tool is www.ftc.gov/idtheft, a Web site chock full of practical information for consumers, businesses entrusted with consumer data, and law enforcers who prosecute the crime."
The FTC has issued a publication, “To Buy or Not To Buy: Identity Theft Spawns New Products and Services To Help Minimize Risks,” to help consumers evaluate whether they should initiate fraud alerts or credit freezes or invest in identity theft products and services such as credit monitoring that are for sale.
The study was conducted through interviews using a random-digit-dialing sampling methodology. A total of 4,917 telephone interviews were conducted between March 27 and June 11, 2006.
The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, click http://www.ftc.gov/ftc/complaint.shtm or call 1-877-382-4357. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,600 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. For free information on a variety of consumer topics, click http://ftc.gov/bcp/consumer.shtm.