Identity Theft Victims Skyrocket, Surveys Say

Article excerpt

A May 2003 study funded by Privacy & American Business (P&AB) and conducted by Harris Interactive reveals that the 7 million victims of identity theft in 2002 represent an 81 percent increase over the number of victims in 2001. Furthermore, incidents reported in 2003 suggest a major spike in the 2002 numbers. A more recent five-year analysis of identity theft by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) came to the same conclusions. The FTC received almost 162,000 identity theft comphinis in 2002--double the number received in 2001--and estimates that as many as 700,000 Americans are victimized each year, costing each about $1,000 to correct the damage to their credit reports.

According to the P&AB survey, 33.4 million Americans say they have been victims of identity theft or fraud since 1990, with more than 13 million since January 2001 and rising. The survey also shows that victims' resulting outof-pocket expenses have totaled $1.5 billion since January 2001.

Calling identity theft the "All-American crime of the Information Age," study designer Alan Westin, professor emeritus of Public Law and Government at Columbia University, noted that the crime is spread broadly throughout the American community, striking people of all ages, income levels, and races.

The survey defined identity theft as a situation where someone assumes the identity of another and makes telephone calls or obtains merchandise, credit, or other valuable things in their name. Of those who knew how the identity theft or fraud was committed:

* 34 percent said someone obtained their credit card information, forged a credit card in their name, and used it to make purchases.

* 12 percent said someone stole or improperly obtained a paper or computer record with their personal information on it and used that to forge their identity. …