The latest report on identity theft was just released by Javelin Strategy & Research, and it contains this surprising statistic: the number of Americans hit by identity theft dropped in 2010.
It wasn’t just a small decline. The number of victims plummeted 28%, from 11.25 million in 2009 to 8.1 million last year.
“Identity fraud underwent a marked decline and shift over the past year,” James Van Dyke, president of Javelin, said in a press release. “This great news is a testament to the significant efforts businesses, the financial services industry and government agencies are making to educate consumers, protect data, and prevent and resolve identity fraud.”
A drop like this is hard to fathom. After all, criminal identity theft rings are becoming more professional and better funded, using suites of software to run phishing and other types of scams to steal our data from our computers. (For more on this, read antivirus manufacturer McAfee’s excellent – and scary – blog on all the sophisticated scams its researchers are finding.) And criminals are learning they can steal just as much money from identity theft as they can from robbing a bank, without the risk of spending decades in prison (for proof, see our latest stories on convicts running identity theft rings from jail and prison).
Part of the issue here may be methodology. Hard numbers on identity theft are notoriously difficult to find. Consumers are less likely to report identity theft than other types of crime. When they do file reports, local police have a myriad of different ways to classify the crime – they could call it robbery or fraud just as easily as identity theft.
[Resource: Who to Contact in the Event of Identity Theft]
Anyway, Javelin found some other interesting things, even if the whole report should be read with a grain of salt: Javelin estimates that identity thieves stole $37 billion in 2010, a big decline from $56 billion the year before. The average victim lost $631 a big increase from $387 in 2009. That change may be attributable to an increase in what Javelin calls “friendly fraud,” or identity theft committed by the victim’s relatives or close friends.
Image: Blaise Alleyne, via Flickr.com