Identity fraud happens when criminals use someone's stolen identity (identity theft) to commit a crime, such as purchasing items with your credit card. It's not going away anytime soon – 13.1 million people experienced identity fraud in 2013, according to Javelin Strategy and Research’s 2014 Identity Fraud Study.
Javelin’s study defines identity fraud as “the unauthorized use of another person’s personal information to achieve illicit financial gain. Identity fraud can range from simply using a stolen payment card account, to making a fraudulent purchase, to taking control of existing accounts or opening new accounts, including mobile phone or utility services." (Identity fraud can also occur when criminals make up a false identity and use it – but of course the biggest risk to individuals is having their own real data stolen.)
How likely are you to become a victim of identity theft or fraud? There are some statistics that offer cues as to gender, age, race, income, job or geographic location. And are you at greater risk if you’ve been notified that your information was involved in a data breach? Research about the more common victims of identity theft and fraud can show you whether you may need to take extra steps to protect yourself.
Gender and Age
The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ (BJS) 2012 National Crime Victimization Survey found that men and women were equally likely to experience identity theft. In the period surveyed, almost 7% of each gender were victims.
By age group, fewer than 1% of 16- and 17-year-olds experienced ID theft, and just 5% of 18- to 24-year-olds and those 65 and older experienced ID theft. Being of high school, college or retirement age doesn’t seem to automatically put you at high risk of ID theft.
Being middle-aged seems to be the biggest vulnerability point: Javelin Strategy and Research’s 2014 Identity Fraud Study found that the 35-44 age group was at greatest risk of ID theft. The BJS study used slightly different age groups and found that 35- to 49-year-olds experienced the greatest incidence of ID theft.
But younger adults aren't totally off the hook: Based on complaints submitted to the Federal Trade Commission, 20- to 29-year-olds experienced the highest rate of identity theft.
Being in college could be a particular risk if students receive or place mail in unsecured mailboxes or if their university uses Social Security numbers as student ID numbers or to publicly post grades. Students also increase their risk if they place too much personal information online because they’re unaware of the potential consequences, if they use public computers to shop or pay bills, or if they leave their laptops or dorm rooms unsecured.
And older people may experience higher risk as a side effect of health issues. A June 2014 report from TrustedID, an identity theft protection service provider, states that adults aged 50-plus may be at higher risk of identity theft if they have caregivers with easy access to their personal information. The report also states that this age group’s more frequent interactions with the healthcare system put them at greater risk of medical identity theft compared with younger groups. Additionally, it points out that adults who are 65 and older increase their risk of ID theft if they carry a Medicare card, which shows their Social Security number, in their purse or wallet.
Race or Ethnicity
Whites were 2% more likely than blacks or Hispanics to be victims of ID theft in the 2012 National Crime Victimization Survey’s findings. Among those with credit cards, whites also experienced a higher rate of credit card fraud. But the incidence of bank account fraud was similar for all three groups.
Consumers with an annual household income of $75,000 or higher were more likely than lower-income households to experience ID theft, the BJS survey found. This increased risk appears to be related to a higher incidence of credit card ownership among the affluent, not because their increased income itself makes them a bigger target.
However, child ID fraud appears to become more common as family income decreases, according to the Identity Theft Assistance Center, a consumer advocate on identity fraud that offers free victim assistance. Half of households with a child identity theft victim earned less than $35,000 annually, while 10% earned more than $100,000 annually.
In 2013, the five states with the highest percentage of identity thefts per 100,000 residents as reported by consumers to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) were Florida, Georgia, California, Michigan and Nevada. Residents of North Dakota, South Dakota, Hawaii, Maine and Iowa reported the fewest identity thefts as a percentage of their population.
What about specific cities? These five metropolitan statistical areas reported the most identity thefts per 100,000 inhabitants. Three are in Florida – another reason to pay extra attention to this crime if you live in that state:
1 Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, Fla.
2 Columbus, Ga.-Ala.
3 Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, Fla.
4 Jonesboro, Ark.
5 Tallahassee, Fla.
Where are you safest? These five cities had the fewest reported ID thefts as a percentage of their population:
46 Modesto, Calif.
46 Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Ariz.
48 Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, Nev.
49 Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, Ill.-Ind.-Wis.
50 Killeen-Temple, Texas
A data breach does make you much more likely to suffer identity fraud. One in three people who were notified of a data breach became fraud victims in 2013, according to Javelin Strategy and Research’s 2014 Identity Fraud Study. The survey contains data from 5,634 U.S. consumers, 936 of whom were fraud victims. These numbers are a relatively small sample, however, given the U.S. adult population.
The Bottom Line
Certain groups have experienced higher rates of identity theft and fraud, but not always for the reasons you might expect. And other groups you might have heard are at increased risk of identity theft, such as the elderly, may not be after all. If you know that you’re at higher risk, you can take above-average precautions to protect yourself. See Avoid Becoming An Identity Thief's Next Victim and Identity Theft Protection Services: Worth Having?