$52 billion lost to identity thieves in 2021

Javelin Strategy & Research has published annual identity theft studies since 2003.

The number of victims in recent times has tended to fluctuate between 10 and 15 million people. In its latest survey, Javelin found that the comparable number for 2021 was 15 million, with losses rising 79% from the previous year to $24 billion.

These figures correspond to what Javelin calls “traditional identity fraud” in which victims often have no idea how their information has been compromised. Scammers may have circumvented companies’ fraud prevention technologies or used malware and other “crimeware” to steal people’s information. An example would be data breaches.

Javelin has also begun collecting information on “identity scams” in which consumers are tricked into providing personal information by phone, email, text message or any other means of contact. The survey found that 27 million people lost $28 billion to identity scams. And in their case, they often remember exactly when they were tricked into providing their information.

This brings the total of traditional identity fraud and identity fraud to 42 million victims and $52 billion in losses.

Identity theft led all categories of complaints to the FTC in 2020, with 1.4 million reports accounting for nearly a third of all reports to the FTC. Everyone, no matter how smart, is vulnerable to identity theft. Eva Velasquez, President and CEO of ITRC, says, “If you live in the United States and have credentials, I can guarantee you will have problems with impersonation.

The top four categories of identity theft reported to the FTC were:

  • Government documents or benefits fraud – in particular, and likely due to the pandemic, fraudulent claims for government benefits such as unemployment insurance have increased by 2,900%.
  • Credit card fraud – the opening of fraudulent accounts has far exceeded the compromise of existing accounts.
  • Loan or Lease Fraud – Fraudulent business or personal loan applications increased by 127%.
  • Employment or tax related fraud – theft involving consumer tax information jumped 225%.

The incidence of identity theft reports in the 50 states varied widely. Kansas led with 1,483 reports per 100,000 population. South Dakota had the lowest number at 72 per 100,000 people. Mississippi had 371 per 100,000 population and Tennessee 281, ranking them 17th and 26th respectively.

The ITRC says cyberattacks are the main strategy of identity thieves. They include phishing, malware, ransomware, and data breaches. Imposter scams are also a common way for scammers to steal personal information, including impersonating government agencies, delivery companies like FedEx and UPS, and an online love interest. A new scam taking advantage of the pandemic-induced work-from-home boom is a fake video conference invite that downloads malware onto your computer. And the good old dumpster diving and theft of mail from mailboxes is still happening.

The BBB offers you these tips to protect yourself against identity theft of all kinds:

  • Be careful sharing personal information.
  • Use strong, unique passwords and keep system security features up to date.
  • Secure documents and devices at home. Destroy documents you no longer need.
  • Do not click on links or attachments in unsolicited emails and text messages.
  • Take data breach notifications seriously and sign up for free credit monitoring if offered.
  • Consider freezing your credit reports.

Randy Hutchinson is the president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South.

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