Cybersecurity, COVID-19, and Identity Theft Statistics
When quarantines went into effect around the world in Spring 2020, it felt as though life slowed down (unless you worked in healthcare, teaching, or another essential job position). But identity theft and fraud criminals went into overdrive. With more people working from home and online than ever before, it seemed as if the opportunities for cybercriminals expanded infinitely.
Our experts here at Batten went through the 2022 Federal Trade Commission data on the numbers of identity theft cases and found huge increases in that and fraud since 2019. (You can view the data report in its entirety here) Just how big of an increase?
Well, the FTC reported that from 2019 to 2020, the number of fraud reports increased 21% from 1.9 to 2.3 million. From 2020 to 2021, there was another spike of 26% in identity fraud reports, resulting in a $2.7 billion increase in fraud losses. That amounts to a 78% increase in consumer identity fraud reports from 2019 to 2021 and a 211% increase in consumer losses from 2019 to 2021.
These are staggering numbers for identity theft statistics that truly show the gravity of how much this problem is growing year-over-year.
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Is Identity Theft a Problem?
If you haven’t considered identity theft and fraud to be a serious consideration, these statistics from the past few years prove that it’s a problem that is only getting worse, not better. As more of our lives happen online, the risk of cybercrime increases as well.
But why is identity theft a problem? Because it can cause irreparable harm to your personal life, your finances, and even put major life milestones such as buying a house or starting your own business on hold.
Identity theft is the theft of someone’s identity information for fraudulent or nefarious purposes. People who steal your identity info can use that to apply for credit card applications, tax returns, medical care, and more. These actions can damage your credit rating, on top of the financial damage of having accounts opened in your name that you did not request. It can take a significant amount of time, and sometimes money, to restore access to your accounts and improve your credit rating. Identity fraud is a serious crime with real consequences.
Because of the amount of damage that identity theft can cause, it is a serious problem that should be avoided at all costs through proactive digital security measures as well as good old online common sense. Preventing identity theft through various cybersecurity measures can keep you from becoming a statistic.
Where Identity Theft Is Most Common
Worst States for ID Theft and Fraud
Thanks to the full Batten study about identity theft and fraud, we have empirical identity theft statistics that show what states and metro areas within the United States were hit hardest over the last few years. During the pandemic, every state saw a noticeable increase in ID theft reports, but some were far worse off than others. The states with the largest reported percentage increase in identity theft reports since 2018 were:
- Rhode Island (213%)
- Kansas (163%)
- Illinois (93%)
- Louisiana (87%)
- Colorado (74%)
Interestingly enough, the states with the most identity theft reports during 2019 – 2021 were not the same states with the most reported cases in 2018. For example, Rhode Island reported 93 cases per 100k people in 2018. But, in 2021, that number skyrocketed to 2,857 per 100k.
These percentages were calculated per 100,000 people, so that states with higher populations can be compared against the states with the smallest populations. So while you might think that heavily-populated states with the biggest cities would have the most cases, when calculating per capita, that doesn’t always hold true. Rhode Island is not a large state compared to New York or California, but it had the highest percentage increase in identity theft claims.
Worst Metro Areas for Identity Theft and Fraud
By looking at the FTC’s data and comparing that to the state’s average income, our experts were able to create a list of the worst metro areas for identity theft and fraud. These are the cities where you are likely to lose the most money to identity theft and fraud. Because it’s a lot harder to make $100/hour in Mobile, Alabama than in New York City.
Tuscaloosa, Alabama ranked worst for identity theft and fraud. What’s worse is that in Alabama, you could lose approximately 2.37% of your income, or $1,657 based on the state’s average income.
The second worst metropolitan area for fraud, Memphis, resides in a state (Tennessee) with an average loss of 1.97% of the average income of $74,750, equating to $1,469. That’s enough money to ruin someone’s who month, not just their day.
The Most Common Type of Identity Theft
Now that we’ve shared the facts around identity theft overall, we’re discussing types of identity theft that are most common. That way, when you start creating a plan for protecting your identity online, you are aware of how you need to protect yourself.
When it comes to identity theft, there are plenty of ways that scammers and cybercriminals will try and get you to give up your personal information. Depending on the information they obtain, there are different forms that the identity theft can take. The most common form is Financial Identity Theft.
Financial Identity Theft is the most common form of identity theft for a reason. When criminals or scammers get desperate, using someone else’s information to gain credit or make a purchase can feel like an easy way out. However, all forms of identity theft and identity fraud are a crime, and can be punished as such.
When your identity is stolen, identity thieves can use your social security number to open up credit card accounts, commit credit card fraud, and even access your bank accounts to steal your money. It’s a complex process to undo the damage from being the victim of identity theft.
While financial identity theft is the most common form, it is not the only type of identity theft. Other forms of identity theft include:
- Tax identity theft: When someone uses your identity to claim your tax return
- Medical identity theft: A criminal uses your information to receive medical care, attention, or a procedure
- Employment identity theft: When someone uses your information to get a job or receive employment benefits such as unemployment pay (also known as Benefits Fraud)
- Child identity theft: Using a child or teenager’s social security number to open accounts and take on credit
- Estate identity theft: Using a deceased person’s information to open new accounts
Cybercriminals can get very creative when it comes to using your personal information. Now it’s time to talk preventative measures so that you can keep yourself from becoming a victim.
How Identity Theft Happens
Knowing how identity theft occurs is a great first step in your personal information security journey. Often times, identity theft victims don’t even know that they are a victim because they don’t know how their personal information was stolen.
Keep these methods in mind when it comes to keeping your identity safe:
- Trash diving: Exactly what it sounds like. Someone goes through your trash to find documents or discarded mail that have your personal information on it.
- Mail theft: Similar to trash rummaging, identity thieves take your mail that has pertinent info on it for their own use. Credit card statements, mortgage bills, bank statements, medical bills, government documents, and more all have sensitive information on them.
- Eavesdropping and Peeking: When someone listens in on your phone calls or looks over your shoulder while you are using your computer or cell phone to steal your info.
- Phishing schemes: When criminals impersonate someone else, a business, or a government entity over the phone, trying to swindle you into sharing important information.
- Credit/debit card theft: Either physically stealing or copying your card info to use online.
If you remain vigilant about who you share your personal information with and only do so when absolutely necessary, and not over the phone, through sketchy emails, or on questionable websites, you can make it more difficult for would-be cybercriminals. Proactive protection is a lot easier than trying to clean up the messes of identity thieves.
The Impact of Identity Theft
Identity theft affects your finances and credit score. When cybercriminals take your information to open new accounts, make purchases without your consent, or even pay for medical bills unrelated to you, they are not only stealing from you. They are also hurting your credit score and financial reputation.
There’s a reason why common financial advice is to never pay for gas at the gas pump with a debit card: it’s all too easy to steal your information and gain access to your bank account. While having your credit card information stolen is also a major problem, once an identity thief gains access to your debit card and bank account, it is much longer, timelier process to stop errant purchases and have that money returned to you, if it even happens at all. Having your social security card, debit card number, name and address, or login information are all ways that identity thieves can access and take your financial assets.
Credit Score Impact
If you use a credit score tracking service through one of the major credit bureaus or via your credit card provider, you may receive updates when your credit score changes. This is a great tool to keep an eye out for if your identity information has been stolen and put to nefarious uses. When cybercriminals use your personal information to apply for credit cards, mortgages, loans, tax returns, and anything else they don’t want to pay for themselves, it’s YOUR credit score that takes a hit. We’ve even seen medical identity theft happen and that can be even more difficult to untangle than simple financial identity theft.
Your credit score is impacted by how many credit inquiries you have within a given time frame (usually a year), the number of accounts you have open, if you have any late payments, and more. If someone opens an account in your name that you don’t know about, and you don’t make payments on it, your credit score will take a hit. That’s why it’s so important to keep tabs on your credit report and what accounts are on it. Sign up to get regular credit report updates from the three major credit bureaus. You don’t want to experience how much identity theft affects your entire life.
Who is Most Vulnerable to Identity Theft
Knowing who identity thieves are most likely to target can help you understand the full risks if you are included in that population. When it comes to finding victims, cybercriminals are most likely to target:
- Senior Citizens: Perhaps the easiest group to guess on this list, older people are often the targets of fraudsters. When it comes to criminals reaching out over the phone by calling, texting or emailing, it’s important that everyone, no matter your age, knows how to spot a fake email asking for sensitive information.
- Military Personnel: According to Fami.com, military personnel tend to be targets for identity theft due to sensitive personal information (such as social security numbers) used as identifying information. Deployments can also lead to identity theft if the deployed person hasn’t set credit monitoring alerts, which friends and family can unfortunately, take advantage of.
- College Students: Over 18 and bombarded by credit card applications, college students tend to be targeted for identity theft as they are old enough to qualify for credit but are less experienced when it comes to scammers.
- Young Children: Young people without any credit history are considered a “clean slate” when it comes to credit, potentially making them a target for criminals looking to capitalize on a high likelihood of credit approval for their identity fraud schemes. As most children’s credit reports aren’t actively monitored, they are considered at-risk targets for identity fraud.
Children and college students are most often targeted by people they know, with stolen credit incidents lingering for years without going detected. This is why there’s immense value in investing in an identity theft protection service.
Top Identity Theft Protection Services
Investing in the proper tools and services to protect yourself from identity theft should be a major consideration when creating your identity theft prevention plan. While there are many businesses out there that claim to offer complete identity theft protection services, our expert advisors at Batten did the hard work of determining which services are actually worth your time, energy, and money. We reviewed credit monitoring services, identity theft tools, and identity theft insurance.
The top three services that our experts recommend for protection from identity theft include:
- Aura: A total all-in-one solution not just for identity theft but protection forma ll threats while using the internet, all of us here at Batten are big fans of Aura. Aura’s intuitive UI makes signing up and accessing the home dashboard simple. You can use a password manager, VPN, ID protection, and antivirus with one subscription. There are no term limits, so you can try Aura risk-free. Aura is best for anyone who is comfortable using standard software tools and browser extensions. It’s a great service for keeping an eye out for credit card fraud and much more.
Aura$9.00 / monthlybuy on Aura
- Identity Guard: For total identity theft protection, Identity Guard offers the best bang for your buck. With two different tiers for accommodating different security levels and budgets, you should be able to find a plan that fits your lifestyle best. Our experts chose Identity Guard because it has comprehensive coverage that monitors your online information on the dark web, alerts you to fraud threats, helps you recover your assets, and includes a $1M identity theft insurance policy. They also liked that its intuitive setup process allows you to sign up and start protecting your online identity in minutes. Additionally, it has 24/7 US-based customer support.
Identity Guard - Total Plan$13.35 / monthlybuy on identity guard
- TDS: If all of this sounds great, but the thought of implementing your own cybersecurity protocols and software feels like more than you can handle, what you need is a cybersecurity concierge service. With Total Digital Security, you have access to professional cybersecurity advisors. You are assigned a personal specialist who is dedicated to working with you over the phone and available for consultation whenever you need. It offers a free, no-obligation assessment of your cybersecurity needs. All plans are personalized to you and your family. Our experts agree that TDS is best for those who are not tech-savvy and want a low-effort digital security solution.
Total Digital Security$Schedule A Call
Prevent Identity Theft
Now that you’ve learned about the worst places for the risk of identity theft, how it happens, and how you can protect yourself, it’s time to move forward with creating a protection plan against identity theft and fraud. Prevention and protection will keep you from becoming an identity theft victim since you now know how to keep your personal or financial information locked down.
As you start your personal security journey, Batten’s Resources blog offers expert advise and recommendations on how to keep yourself safe online, at home, and in an emergency. And when you’re ready to purchase the solutions and services that can best keep you safe, our Marketplace is where you can go to find only the top best-in-class, expert recommended solutions that will keep you and your family safe.