The number of identity theft cases has been growing steadily in the past decade, and that trend continued in 2012, as millions of people were affected by the crime, and millions more were exposed to its potential.
Over the course of 2012, there were 12.6 million cases of identity fraud in the U.S. alone, up from 11.6 million in 2011, according to the 2013 Identity Fraud Report issued by Javelin Strategy and Research. That was also the second-highest total seen since 2005, trailing only 2009’s 13.9 million incidents. The total cost of 2012’s fraud came to $20.9 billion, up significantly from the previous year’s $18 billion but also down from levels seen prior to 2009.
“This past year [had] both successes and setbacks for consumers, institutions and fraudsters,” said Jim Van Dyke, CEO of Javelin Strategy and Research. “Consumers and institutions are now starting to act as partners — detecting and stopping fraud faster than ever before. But fraudsters are acting quicker than ever before and victimizing more consumers. Consumers must take data breach notifications more seriously and maintain vigilance to safeguard personal information, especially Social Security numbers.”
In all, one person in the U.S. was hit by identity fraud every three seconds last year, and one in every four people who received notifications that their personal information was exposed in a data breach was later victimized, the report said. Further, those whose Social Security numbers were exposed in such an incident were also five times more likely to be victimized by identity theft than those who didn’t have that data exposed.
In addition, 15 percent of all people who were previously victimized by fraud became far more careful about where they did their shopping, for fear that this type of crime would impact them again in the future, the report said. As such, many changed their shopping behaviors and began avoiding smaller online retailers, while largely continuing to patronize gaming sites and larger companies, which are also susceptible to this type of crime.
Identity theft can cause havoc for all aspects of a victim’s finances, as it can lead to thousands of dollars in debt or more that they will need to resolve, and likely also significantly lower their credit scores at the same time. For this reason, borrowers should always closely check over their financial statements and credit reports to better detect signs of fraud.