ID Thefts, Damage on the Rise

ID fraud spiked last year by almost a quarter, yet the total amount bilked by ID thieves rose only slightly.

The latest news on the identity theft front is something of a mixed bag: the bad news is that identity theft incidents spiked last year, rising by almost a quarter. The good news is that the total amount bilked by ID thieves rose by only seven percent.

The encouraging upshot, says security researcher Javelin Strategy & Research, is that ID theft detection and resolution strategies appear to be helping. The mean cost of identity fraud for consumers dropped by nearly one-third (31 percent) in 2008. "[F]raud is increasing but it is being caught more quickly; consumer costs are declining; and crimes of opportunity, such as information from lost wallets, still comprise the vast majority of incidents," said James Van Dyke, president and founder of the research firm, in a statement.

Consumers and businesses are more aware of and (just as important) responsive to ID fraud, according to Van Dyke.

"The good news is research shows consumers have more control than they may think and more of them are actively taking steps to protect themselves," he said. "Additionally, the financial industry has made significant strides to resolve fraud incidents for their customers and put stronger controls in place to limit fraud, which is lessening the impact of this crime."

On the other hand, ID thieves have become much more nimble: last year, almost three-quarters (71 percent) of fraudulent use occurred less than a week after an identity was first compromised. (That's among reported cases of ID theft only.) By and large, however, they're using the same old techniques -- e.g., purloined wallets, checkbooks, or credit cards -- to perpetrate their frauds.

Last year, these and other tried-but-true exploits accounted for almost half -- 43 percent -- of all ID theft incidents, according to Javelin Research. By contrast, online fraud -- such as that perpetrated by viruses, malware, or other compromised systems -- accounted for only 11 percent of the total.

There's a gender bias in ID theft, too: in 2008, women were more likely to fall victim to ID thieves than men, Javelin reports: fully 25 percent more women than men had their identities compromised last year.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.

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