According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, there were 783 data breaches last year, a substantial increase from both the previous year and the previous 2010 peak. In addition, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recorded 332,646 identity theft complaints in 2014, up slightly from 2013. All forms of fraud, including identity theft, cost Americans about $1.7 billion in 2014, or an average of more than $2,000 per incident.
Scams involving government documents such as fraudulent tax filings were the most common method of identity theft. Florida reported 37,059 identity theft complaints, or 186.3 per 100,000 people, each the largest figures by far of any state.
While identity theft complaints are far more common in these five states than in others, there are no safe states for identity theft. Steven Toporoff, attorney in the Division of Privacy and Identity Protection at the FTC, said, “everyone is vulnerable.” If a major retail chain’s system is hacked, he added, information about millions of consumers in different states is compromised. “Any time consumers give out their information it creates vulnerability,” said Toporoff.
According to Toporoff, the motive behind identity theft is very simple. “There’s a lot of money in [identity theft] with very little physical risk,” said Toporoff. And there are many methods. In most cases, Toporoff explained, only a computer is needed to steal someone’s identity. While often such thieves operate in gangs or on a large scale, sometimes “insiders” sell information. These individuals often work for educational, financial, or medical institutions, which store personal information. Selling confidential information can be very lucrative.
While everyone is vulnerable to identity theft, children and elderly people are targeted more than others, although for different reasons. According to Toporoff, children are prime targets because their information is readily available as it is stored within a school system. In addition, almost no one monitors a child’s credit report. This means a child’s stolen identity can often be used for years before the misuse is even detected.
Elderly Americans are vulnerable to identity theft for a host of reasons. They are targeted because often they have more money than younger Americans. They also tend to have more contact with medical establishments, with multiple specialists, and with multiple people such as caretakers entering their homes more often. This may partly explain the nation-leading rate of identity thefts in Florida, where nearly 19% of the population was 65 and over in 2013, the highest proportion in the country.
Identity Theft Cases per 100K: 112.7
Fraud Cases per 100K: 777.7 (2nd highest)
Total Cases: 78,526 (5th highest)
Average Amount Paid: $1,750
Georgia’s 2014 annual unemployment rate was 8.2% and combined with a high poverty rate of 19.2%, many residents suffered some degree of financial stress. Unfortunately, many residents also became victims of identity theft with government documents and benefits fraud accounting for the largest share of the states identity theft and fraud complaints. Several local jurisdictions report that they are “overwhelmed with identity theft cases.” Most of these crimes involve filing false tax returns with stolen social security numbers.
Identity Theft Cases per 100K: 118.7
Fraud Cases per 100K: 516.3
Total Cases: 31,304
Average Amount Paid: $1,587
The number of identity theft complaints per 100,000 Missouri residents jumped from 67 in 2013 to 118.7 in 2014, propelling Missouri from 25th to fourth place on this list. Government documents and benefits fraud represented the majority of identity theft complaints, 62%, the highest rate in the nation. Missouri was one of only nine states in which government documents and benefits accounted for more than 50% of identity theft complaints.
Identity Theft Cases per 100K: 124.6
Fraud Cases per 100K: 505.5
Total Cases: 20,069
Average Amount Paid: $1,830
More than 60% of identity theft complaints in Oregon in 2014 involved government documents or benefits, compared to 39% nationally. Almost a quarter of all fraud complaints in the state involved identity theft, compared to 13% across the country. The number of identity thefts in Oregon more than doubled from 2013 to 2014. Total fraud complaints also rose, though not as sharply.
Identity Theft Cases per 100K: 154.8
Fraud Cases per 100K: 511.6
Total Cases: 36,127
Average Amount Paid: $2,704
Slightly more than 30% of all fraud complaints in Washington involved identity theft, the highest percentage of any state. Nationally, identity theft represented 13% of all fraud complaints. Indeed, identity theft grew dramatically in Washington, more than doubling from 2013 to 2014.
Identity Theft Cases per 100K: 186.3
Fraud Cases per 100K: 1007.3 (highest)
Total Cases: 200,392 (2nd highest)
Average Amount Paid: $2,104
Florida’s senior population appears to make the state particularly vulnerable to identity theft, and all other types of fraud, which affected more than 1 in every 100 residents, also the highest rate in the nation. The fraud rate was almost a third higher than second-ranked Georgia, which had 777.7 fraud complaints for every 100,000 residents. Florida leads the nation in the percentage of its population over age 65, 18.6%. Many of Florida’s older residents likely recieve social security benefits, which could explain the 52% of Florida identity theft complaints that involved government documents or benefits fraud, versus 38.7% nationwide.