About 1 in 10 adults, or nearly 26 million individuals, fall victim to ID theft every year. That makes ID theft among the most common crimes in the U.S., affecting more people than burglary, auto theft or assault.
The resulting losses cost our economy billions every year, eclipsing $17 billion total in 2016 alone, but only 7 percent of victims report these crimes to police. ID theft is already a huge crisis, and it’s continuing to grow. In 2014, according to federal law enforcement data, about 16 million ID thefts were reported, meaning ID theft almost doubled in just a couple of years.
But as with most crimes, your chances of being affected vary widely depending on who you are and where you live. In fact, when it comes to ID theft, being female, white, between 35 and 64 and living in one of a handful of states all make you more likely to report being a victim.
Let’s take a closer look at the national data to see how those differences play out.
Gender & ID Theft
Women reported more ID theft cases than men in 2016 — 959,600 more to be exact. While that’s a nearly 8 percentage point difference between men and women, the gender gap in ID theft is closing.
Men who do report being victims of ID theft are much more likely than female victims to have existing credit card accounts misused vs. having new accounts opened in their names or other personal information misused.
Why are women overall at higher risk for ID theft? While we don’t know the reasons in every single case, we can look to differences in the way men and women use the internet for some ideas.
According to a 2018 study by First Insight, a retail analytics company, women are much more likely to shop on sites like Amazon and to use their mobile devices to shop, which can expose personal and financial information to hackers and fraudsters.
Women also use social media more than men, though the difference isn’t as sizeable as the gulf in shopping. Still, such sites present added risk for ID theft given the global and relatively anonymous nature of these networks.
Women have more credit cards, on average, than men (helpful for all that online shopping), though they have a bit less debt on average:
Other Demographic Factors
While women are more likely to be ID theft victims than men, the differences are even greater when looking at factors like race, income and age.
States & ID Theft
Michigan and Florida by far lead the way in ID theft reports, according to Federal Trade Commission data.
While some states clearly present a more dangerous ID theft picture, certain types of ID theft and fraud are much more common in different parts of the country.
In the time it took you to read this report, hundreds of Americans became the victim of identity theft. And the results can be devastating, as ID theft can leave a trail of carnage in its wake. From recovering financial losses to ongoing emotional struggles, identity theft can set off a chain reaction of trauma.
It’s unlikely very many of us will be online less in the future than we are now, so the best way to protect yourself is to ensure good habits, such as:
- Creating strong passwords and updating them regularly.
- Checking your credit report at least once a year.
- Ensuring any sites you shop with are secure (check for the padlock in the address bar).
- Paying in cash when possible.
- If you have a choice, using a credit card, as those transactions are protected.
And if you suspect you’ve been targeted by ID theft, you should do a few things immediately:
- Notify the companies that hold the account or accounts in question and cancel your cards.
- Put a fraud alert on your credit report and consider a freeze if the breach affects multiple accounts.
- Contact your local police and the Federal Trade Commission
- Conduct a thorough examination of all three credit reports and use ID theft reports with the credit bureaus to get bogus accounts removed.
- Send creditors, even those not affected by the breach, copies of any ID theft reports to ensure they don’t continue reporting the fraudulent information to credit bureaus.
The emotional and financial toll from identity theft is very real and can be very long-lasting. One-quarter of those surveyed by IRTC said they sought professional counseling to cope with the emotional strain of ID theft, and more than one-third reported headaches and fatigue.
ID theft is a serious crisis, but getting into good internet habits can help keep you from becoming one of the statistics.
About This Data
Where possible, we’ve linked directly to the data used in each section. Here’s a recap of where we found our numbers:
- Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, Victims of Identity Theft 2016, Victims of Identity Theft 2014, and Criminal Victimization 2016
- First Insight, Minding the Shopping Gender Gap
- Pew Research Center, Social Media Fact Sheet
- Experian, Men vs. Women: Who Wins the Credit Game?
- Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2017, State Rankings, ID Theft Reports
- Identity Theft Resource Center
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