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Identity theft rises, consumers rage


The big data breaches almost seem routine. The count is 368 breaches so far this year, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center, a cybercrime research and education group. That’s up nearly 19 percent from the same period last year. The number of personal records exposed in 2014 thus far? Over 10 million.

Identity theft — when someone uses such personal data to do anything from fraudulently opening a new bank account to fooling the police — is a crime on the rise in prominence, and in recent years, prevalence.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics, the government agency crunching numbers for the Justice Department, found that 16.6 million American adults experienced identity theft in 2012. That same year, the agency recorded just 6.8 million total non-fatal violent crimes.

According to the same report, released in December 2013, over 34.2 million adults, or 14 percent of Americans 16 or older, had experienced some form of identity theft in the past.

The BJS hasn’t yet released a comparable identity theft report for 2013, and in previous reports the agency measured victimization by household rather than individual. The private company Javelin Strategy & Research uses a different methodology than the government bureau and has generated different numbers. But its reports on identity fraud, spanning nearly a decade, offer a glimpse into the growth of the crime over time.

According to Javelin, 11.2 million Americans reported being victims of identity fraud in 2005. The problem peaked, by the company’s count, in 2009 at 13.9 million, then dropped to 10.2 million in 2010. That number has climbed steadily since, to 13.1 million victims – or one every two seconds – in 2013, according to the company’s numbers.

It’s driving consumers crazy. Identity theft leads the Federal Trade Commission’s list of top consumer complaints, accounting for 14 percent of all complaints recorded by the government body in 2013. According to the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book, Florida topped the list of per capita identity theft complaints that year.

It can be a huge headache. The BJS’ 2012 report found that it takes identity theft victims an average of nine hours to clear up issues related to the crime. While over half of identity victims in 2012 who were able to resolve the problem did so in a day or less, the BJS found that 29 percent of victims who had personal information used for fraudulent purposes spent a month or more resolving the problems. Only 14 percent of victims suffered out-of-pocket financial losses, but when you factor in indirect losses — legal fees, bounced checks, etc. — that number jumps to a whopping 68 percent. And for those who did suffer a direct and indirect loss — the average cost was $1,769.

It isn’t fun. About 36 percent of identity theft victims in 2012 reported moderate or severe emotional distress as a result of the incident.

And people don’t know who’s hitting them. The BJS report found that 9 out of 10 didn’t know anything about the offender’s identity.

Here’s one silver lining: according to Javelin’s reports, the amount stolen has actually decreased in recent years. From just under $20 billion in 2010, to $18 billion last year.

© 2014 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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