Identity Theft

13.1 Million Americans Hit By Identity Theft in 2013

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Identity theft is on the rise again, according to Javelin Strategy and Research. The firm, which does an annual survey of identity theft victims, estimates that 13.1 million U.S. adults were hit by ID theft in 2013, an increase of 500,000 victims from 2012. It’s the second-highest annual total in the 11-year history of Javelin’s annual study. Only 2009, with 13.9 million victims, topped last year.

“Our research shows that 2013 was a banner year for some really bad things,” said Al Pascual, researcher at Javelin.

Given recent news about massive credit card database breaches at Target and other retailers, the increase might not come as a surprise. But Javelin’s sample was taken well before news of the retail giant data breaches, Pascual said, and he’s convinced the impact of those massive thefts probably won’t be detected until the 2014 study. In other words, identity theft is really on the rise.

The one piece of good news that can be found in Javelin’s study is that the dollar amount of loss for each victim is down, so total losses are also down — from $21 billion in 2012 to $18 billion last year. That’s a good news/bad news story, however. Criminals who are getting less revenue per victim seem to be responding to that trend by attacking more victims.

Javelin Identity Theft 2013

“The industry had gotten better at catching fraud sooner, but … criminals last year were better at getting their hands on (consumers’) data,” Pascual said.  “So now it affects more people. But it’s encouraging that we can keep the amounts down. We have to start somewhere.”

Even though Pascual thinks Target victims might not have shown up in the survey, data leaks are still a major problem for victims — even leaks that are never made public.

“We saw a lot of other big breaches last year, in the insurance industry, in restaurant chains,” he said. “Typically there are more breaches than consumers are aware of.”

When they do receive notice of a breach, consumers need to pay attention, Pascual said. Nearly 1 in 3 consumers who received a data leak notification letter actually experienced fraud — a record number.

“We need to make sure consumers take breach notifications seriously,” Pascual said, “It seems like one hits every few weeks.”

[Editor's Note: If you're worried about becoming a victim of identity theft, you may want to consider monitoring your credit. You can purchase a credit monitoring product or track it less formally using the Credit Report Card, a free tool that updates two of your credit scores every month. A sudden, unexpected change in your credit scores could signal identity theft.]

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