Identity Theft Facts: The Truth Behind This New-Age Crime
by Writer Calvin Fellows
Topic: Synthetic Fraud
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Identity theft affects millions of people every year, and it’s a significant problem for U.S. citizens. According to a Javelin Strategy study, the total number of identity theft victims in 2018 was around 14.4 million.
The widespread use of the internet and computers has created opportunities for fraudsters and digital thieves. While there are quality antivirus software programs for individuals and companies, hackers constantly develop new ways of outsmarting security systems.
These are some of the important facts to know about this new-age crime. Completely protecting yourself against identity theft is very difficult, but learning about it can help you avoid these problems.
Identity Theft Affects Millions of People Every Year in the U.S.
The Federal Trade Commission receives millions of identity theft reports every year. There was a dramatic increase in identity theft and fraud reports from 2019 to 2020. In 2019, the FTC received around 3.3 million reports, and in 2020 the number went up to 4.8 million.
The increase was primarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Stimulus payment checks were an easy target for online criminals. Nearly one-third of identity theft complaints in 2020 were scams involving government benefits.
Identity Theft Happens Regularly
Identity theft occurs more often than people think. According to a Javelin Strategy and Research study, during 2013, there was an identity theft case every 2 seconds.
Data breaches and cyberattacks also occur frequently and are on the rise. They can potentially affect millions of people. In 2016, a business fell victim to a ransomware attack every 40 seconds, according to a cybercrime report by Cybersecurity Ventures.
Social Security Numbers Are a Primary Target
Identity theft criminals want your SSN because it’s a crucial and private piece of information, and you can’t easily replace it. With your SSN, thieves can access other information about you, such as your date of birth, employment, bank accounts, and credit files. Sometimes, you may not find your SSN is compromised until your credit application is turned down, or you start getting calls from creditors.
Recovery from an Identity Theft Case Takes Time
One of the most surprising identity theft facts is how long it takes to recover for victims. If you notice fraudulent activity in your accounts soon enough, the time to recover from an identity theft victim can be very short. However, according to a study from the SANS Institute, on average, it might take as much as 600 hours to recover from a severe case of identity theft.
Children Are Also Targets
Adults are not the only people that identity theft criminals target. Identity theft schemes focusing on children are common. Children are given an SSN at birth but generally don’t use it until they turn 18 and go to college.
Because children have spotless credit reports, it’s easy for criminals to use children’s SSN to open credit cards to take out loans. In addition, the parents probably won’t check the credit reports for years, giving thieves a lot of time.
Data Breaches Are a Major Cause of Identity Theft
A data breach happens when a hacker accesses a company’s information or database illegally. Companies like Twitter, Facebook, or Yahoo have all experienced data breaches in recent years. When hackers breach the security systems of an essential social media or financial company, they can steal information from millions of people very quickly. In 2019, there were 1,473 data breaches in the U.S., which impacted roughly 300 million people.
Identity Theft Increases During an Economic Crisis
An interesting identity theft fact is that there’s more online crime during crises. For example, during the 2008-2009 financial crisis, there was a 33% increase in internet fraud.
The same is true of the coronavirus pandemic. The total number of yearly identity theft cases before the pandemic was close to 3 million, but in 2020 the Federal Trade Commission received 4.8 million identity theft and fraud complaints.
In times of economic crisis, businesses tend to cut down on costs. Online security is often seen as a non-essential investment, and companies stop paying for it. Usually, these are companies that have never experienced a cyberattack. Hackers know there are opportunities during difficult economic times, and they take advantage.
It’s Difficult to Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft Completely
Even if you are very careful with your personal information, all kinds of companies and government agencies can suffer cyberattacks. For example, in 2017, Equifax, the largest credit bureau in the U.S., suffered a data breach that affected 145 million Americans. The breach exposed personal data, including Social Security Numbers.
Identity Theft Related Tax Fraud is Real
Even though tax fraud isn’t one of the most common types of identity theft crime, it’s still a significant problem. This is when someone uses your personal information, including your SSN, to file a tax return. Thieves usually file tax returns early in the season and have the refunds electronically deposited into their accounts.
In 2020, more than 89,000 Americans were victims of tax fraud, and during that year, tax fraud accounted for 7.3% of all types of identity theft.
Acting Quickly is Key
The ordeal might begin when you notice transactions on your bank account that aren’t yours. Maybe, a company that has your information announces their systems have been breached. When you learn you are an identity theft victim, you should act as quickly as possible.
First, change your passwords and use different passwords for all your accounts. Then, call your bank and block all accounts and credit cards from further transactions. Once you have taken these two steps to protect yourself, you can file a report with the FTC.
How to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft
There are many things you can do to protect yourself from identity theft. You should be careful with your personal information at all times. For example, don’t throw confidential documents with your SSN in the trash. It’s better to shred financial or medical records.
Always be careful about what you do online. Public Wi-Fi isn’t a secure network, and you shouldn’t log into your bank accounts or other sensitive websites while using it. Also, be wary of online scams. The internet is full of fake and fraudulent websites that require you to remain vigilant.
About the Author
Calvin Fellows is a former military security agent and police detective who headed security administration. Calvin is experienced and knowledgeable in all avenues of personal and corporate security, and is dedicated to educating people on how to preempt any physical or cyber security attacks before they happen.
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