The Javelin Conundrum: Making Sense of the Latest Identity Theft Numbers

PuzzleAt first blush one might be cheered by the results of the newly released Javelin Strategy & Research 2010 Identity Fraud Survey Report.

The Good News

Identity fraud incidents decreased in the United States by 28%. That’s three million less victims than reported in their findings in 2009.

The total overall fraud amount dropped from $56 billion to $37 billion in 2010.

The mean loss per consumer dropped from just under $5,000 to just over $4,600.

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[Related article: Surprising New Identity Theft Trend]

But should we be dancing in the streets or at least hopping on the couch like Tom Cruise on Oprah? Well, not exactly. This is one of the earlier studies on the subject that will be released in 2011. The Federal Trade Commission, Ponemon, the Identity Theft Resource Center and Pew (to name a few) will be reporting their findings over the next few months.

Consumers were asked to self-report their victimization and disclose the costs they incurred, but the folks at Gartner weren’t necessarily convinced. According to the “Red Tape Chronicles” blog on, Gartner analyst Avivah Litan argues that the methodology of the Javelin survey has its “pitfalls” and bank data indicates that fraud is actually up. Frankly, the financial services sector has always been pretty guarded when it comes to such disclosures. UC Berkeley’s Professor Chris Hoofnagle has been quite outspoken over the years about their “close to the vest” disclosure policies, and his groundbreaking study tracking the frequency of bank data breaches is absolutely worth a read.

So before we stand on top of a Times Square skyscraper to release the confetti and dump the vat of Gatorade on the winning coach, allow me to assume my Shiva God of Death persona and reflect a bit on the survey’s darker findings.

The Bad News

The mean out of pocket costs due to identity fraud increased by some 63 percent from $387 per incident in 2009 to $631 per incident in 2010. Javelin attributes this to significant increases in new account fraud and “friendly fraud,” both of which percolate for longer periods of time before detection.

The amount of time required by consumers to resolve an identity fraud incident significantly increased in 2010 – jumping from 21 hours to 33 hours (a whopping 39%).

[Resource: Identity Theft Basics]

While credit card account compromise is significant but dropping, debit card fraud is markedly rising. This is entirely logical. In recent reports, millions of consumers have forsaken credit cards for debit cards – either due to a new sense of frugality, fear of an uncertain economy or because they have been unceremoniously forced out of the credit card market. Banks have crushed consumer credit card utilization over the past 3 years by closing accounts, lowering credit limits, jacking up rates and hiking fees. Their “reign of terror” has pushed and cajoled Americans into debit cards which have few rewards, generate billions from swipe fees, offer less fraud protection than credit cards and provide a wormhole into individual bank accounts.

Do I see sweat on your brow?

New account fraud, which accounts for $17 billion (put your pinky to the edge of your mouth like Dr. Evil when you say that), is on its way to eclipsing existing account fraud. This means that the low hanging fruit has been picked over and the predators have climbed the tree grabbing a sweeter consumable which is tougher to detect and more complicated to resolve.

The Javelin Conundrum (cont.) »

Image: Brad Montgomery, via

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