Among the challenges that COVID-19 has brought, add a higher risk of identity theft to the mix. In the past year, we had about 1.4 million reports of identity theft, double the number from 2019. Repeatedly, identity thieves targeted government funds earmarked to help individuals and small businesses hard hit financially by the pandemic. Find out about identity theft in the age of COVID-19. Join us for Identity Theft Awareness Week, February 1-5.
The FTC and its partners will co-host a series of free events. A webinar with the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) will focus on identity theft during the pandemic. Experts from the AARP Fraud Watch Network and the FTC will take your questions during a Facebook Live event. And, the head of the FTC’s Identity Theft Program will join leaders of the ITRC on The Fraudian Slip podcast to talk about identity theft trends and the impact of COVID-19. For a complete listing of events, visit ftc.gov/IDtheftweek.
In 2020, the biggest surge in identity theft reports to the FTC related to the dramatic and nationwide dip in employment. After the government expanded unemployment benefits to people left jobless by the pandemic, cybercriminals filed unemployment claims using the personal information of other people. In 2020, we received 394,280 reports about government benefits fraud — overwhelmingly about identity theft involving unemployment insurance benefits — compared with 12,900 reports in 2019.
People also reported identity theft in which criminals used their business or personal information to get money from government-sponsored loan programs designed to help small businesses weather the pandemic. People reported they learned about the fraud when they got notices telling them it was time to repay loans they never applied for. Last year, we received 99,650 reports of fraud involving business or personal loans, compared with 43,920 reports in 2019, before the pandemic began. While not all of these new reports can be attributed to the government relief effort, they are a sizeable share of the increase.
People told us about identity theft involving their federal stimulus payments from the IRS by reporting it as tax identity theft. In 2020, reports to the FTC of tax identity theft rose to 89,390, from 27,450 reports in 2019. While many of the reports concerned other types of tax identity theft, the report numbers began to swell when distribution of the stimulus payments began.
Later this month, we’ll publish our Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book, with a breakdown of all the identity theft, fraud, and other reports the FTC received in 2020. We’ll have more information for you then. In the meantime, we hope you’ll join us for Identity Theft Awareness Week to learn more about identity theft during the COVID-19 emergency.
For nuts-and-bolts tips on keeping your business’s information secure, check out Cybersecurity for Small Business. And, review our guidance, Businesses Must Provide Victims and Law Enforcement with Transaction Records Relating to Identity Theft, to know your compliance responsibilities — and how to help — if someone working to reclaim their good name after identity theft asks for transaction records from you.