Fastest Growing Crime in the United States: Identity Theft

The average suburban block has roughly 20 homes. Just among your closest neighbors, there are likely 4 families that have been victims of identity theft.

The numbers are shocking: Bankrate.com says 41 million Americans have been the victim of identity theft. Think tank Privacy and American Business says the number is more like 44 million or 1 out of every 5 adults. Each year, thieves steal more than $16 billion dollars using stolen identities.

The numbers are growing. With the incredible amount of personal and financial data stored online these days, bad actors have a lot easier time getting information than they used to have. Take the Yahoo data breach, which compromised 500 million accounts, or the attack on the credit reporting agency Equifax, which exposed data from 143 million Americans.

Online marketplaces on the dark web, Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies, and even messaging apps make it easier than ever for the thieves to buy, sell, and trade the stolen data.

It’s the fastest growing crime in the U.S. The FBI says that every three seconds, an identity is stolen. That’s 35,000 every day and more than 15 million every year.

The Fastest Growing Identity Theft Crimes

  • Credit Card Fraud
     Despite security measures and chip-enabled credit cards, credit card fraud jumped 40% between 2015 and 2016, according to Javelin Strategy and Research, in the most recent year data is available. There are still many ways card numbers can be used online without having to have a physical card.
  • Account Takeovers
     Stolen personal information used to illegally access accounts rose 31% year-to-year.
  • Opening Fraudulent Accounts
     Scammers take your personal information, pose as you, and take out short-term loans, open new bank or credit card accounts, and use your medical information to seek prescription drugs or treatment. Account takeover fraud has increased 20%.

While thieves still employ old school methods, like grabbing pre-approved credit card offers from your mailbox, or watching over your shoulder as you punch in your credit or debit card numbers, crooks have gone high tech. We think of hackers as loners sitting in the dark. In reality, gangs of thieves — often tied into organized crime — are working together to commit fraud on a massive scale.

Fraudsters will use skimmer devices and cameras, secretly installed at gas pumps, credit card machines, or ATMs to grab your card number and PIN. Bluetooth technology and cell phone sim cards are employed to transmit the information to a nearby computer or halfway around the world. They will upload malware into your computer or phone through email to steal your info.

They will use data from breaches to spam you, email you, and call you to get even more personally identifiable data.

Once they have that data, they might bundle it and sell it to others. They might file fake tax returns and grab the refunds. They make credit card purchases and empty bank accounts. You might not find out about the fraud until you get a letter from the IRS or look closely at your monthly statements.

Protect Yourself

Don’t become a victim. Change your passwords often and use complex passwords. Check your statements and credit reports. Don’t give out personal information over the phone or by email. Check out the FBI’s identity theft tips tor more ways to protect yourself.