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How prevalent is identity theft?

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From the Summer 2007 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 10. Determining the extent of identity crime…

From the Summer 2007 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 10.

Determining the extent of identity crime is a crapshoot because law enforcement agencies do not have one unifying database that tracks identity crimes, a Government Accountability Office report concluded in 2002. Three major studies have also been released in the last five years, but there is no consensus on the prevalence of identity crime.

A technology research firm study released this year concluded that about 15 million Americans were victims of identity theft in one year ending in August 2006.

Another study released this year concluded that identity theft is on the decline: 10.1 million Americans learned that criminals committed fraud with personal data in 2003 compared with 8.4 million Americans in 2006. However, this study has been questioned because it was funded by Wells Fargo, Visa, and CheckFree, a bill-paying software company.

The Federal Trade Commission, meanwhile, estimated in 2003 that 27.3 million Americans were victims of identity theft over a five-year period from 1998 to 2002.

The agency released data from its Identity Theft Clearinghouse this year saying 36 percent of its consumer complaints were related to identity theft. The database collects information on identity theft from the FTC and 115 other federal and consumer organizations.

Regardless of how often identity theft happens, law enforcement agencies have had limited success in prosecuting the crime.

Of the 1,255 cases the FBI opened in the 2006 budget year, there were 405 convictions. Postal inspectors made 1,294 arrests in the first half of 2006 and investigators for the Social Security Administration opened 812 cases involving the misuse of Social Security numbers in the first half of 2006, according to the FBI. — NC