Identity Theft Crimes by the Numbers

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Every year, studies show that identity theft rates fluctuate. New methods are being introduced as old methods are effectively combated.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) collects all reports of fraud, identify theft, and other methods of monetary scams.

The latest data from the FTC shows that while there is an increase in all types of identity theft, the most prevalent in 2018 were credit card fraud and "other" identity theft. The "other" category of identity theft includes email/social media, insurance, medical services, securities accounts, evading the law, and unclassified events.

Identity Theft on the Rise

The Consumer Sentinel Network, which is a database run by the FTC, is the collection point for reports of fraud and identity theft. All following information is extracted from the most recent report.

After a short-lived decline in fraud and identity theft previously, 2018 saw an increase in total fraud cases to 2.9 million, up from 2.8 million in 2017. Fraud and other categories compose the majority of reported cases, with 1.4 million and 1.1 million, respectively. This brings the total amount of identity theft reports over 444,000 for 2018.

According to the FTC report, only 46% of the reported incidents of fraud included age information. This makes it harder for the FTC and other consumer protection agencies to identify targeting trends for specific populations.

The top three identity theft categories for 2018 were credit card fraud, employment or tax-related fraud, and phone or utility fraud. Of these, credit card fraud was the highest reported, followed by employment or tax-related fraud.

Credit card fraud had a high rate of increase—24% from 2017. Interestingly, these types of identity theft were made using new credit card accounts.

Enough employment and wage-related fraud occurred to increase reporting 44% from 2017.

Both mobile new accounts and landline new accounts reported an increase of 28%, with existing landline accounts increasing 25%.

One of the more surprising increases in the identify theft list is federal student loans, up 119% from 2017, along with non-federal student loans, which rose 78%.

Methods

In recent years, there has been a large push for consumers to ensure they are checking their bank accounts for signs of any suspicious activity. Banks and credit unions have adopted methods of tracking account holder's spending to be able to identify unusual activity.

This has resulted in a decrease of 6% in existing accounts from 2017 but led to the rise of new account fraud. Thieves are using stolen consumer information to create more new accounts so that consumers and banks are not monitoring activity that does not match their usual habits.

The accounts are then used to run up credit debt, and abandoned by the thieves, leaving the person whose identity they used with debt they did not incur.

Examples of employment and wage-related fraud are wage theft or time theft. This method of fraud is where employees use various methods to falsely increase time worked.

Mobile and landline fraud is when your information is used to open a new account or gain access to your account. These accounts are used for communication, but most commonly they are used to access your bank accounts.

Federal student loan fraud is occurring due to loopholes in legislation regarding payback of certain student loans. The income-driven repayment plan is a plan in which payments are determined by income, with many criminals reporting no income to receive the lowest payment available.

The Government Accountability Office has reported cases of households with annual incomes of $100,000 or more being involved in these types of fraudulent activity. This data indicates that younger adults may not necessarily be to blame, and the problem may spread across a wider spectrum of age groups.

Impact of Identity Theft

In 2018, there was $1.48 billion lost in total fraud. The FTC reports the impact of this as a $375 dollar average loss. However, when the ages groups are taken into account, older victims (70+) had a higher average loss of $1700, while ages 20-29 years reported average losses of $300. This means that 15% of victims lost more than four times the amount of younger victims.

What all this this information means is that you may not be aware your information has been used. Thieves are continuing to circumvent protective measures, making it harder to prevent by inventing new methods.

How You Can Protect Yourself

You will still benefit from monitoring your credit and your account information. You'll need to be especially watchful for new bank accounts, new credit cards or new cell phone accounts in your name.

You can always initiate a freeze on your credit reports with all three of the main bureaus if you believe you are a victim.

The FCC recommends calling your service provider if you think you might be a victim of cell phone fraud, or the call the provider of the fraudulent account that was set up in your name.

You'll need to contact your bank or the appropriate financial institution to resolve any issues with fraudulent credit cards or bank accounts.

Report any instances to the proper agency, and include your age information to help generate any group targeting trends. Then, spread the word to help others lower their risk of identity fraud.