ID theft is soaring, says survey

The number of Americans who fell victim to identity theft in 2002 grew 81% over the year before. And incidents reported so far in...

The number of Americans who fell victim to identity theft in 2002 grew 81% on last year, and the number of incidents reported so far this year suggests that this will continue to grow, according to a survey by Harris Interactive.

More than 13 million Americans have fallen victim to identity theft or fraud since January 2001.

Although 62% of the victims did not incur any cost, 38% did have out-of-pocket expenses. The average cost for such victims since 2001 was $740 (£459).

In all, more than 33 million US residents have fallen victim to ID theft and fraud since 1990.

"These results document that ID theft and fraud are both an organised and freelance criminal activity of major proportions." said survey designer Alan Westin, a professor of public law and government at Columbia University.

Westin added that no single institution, industry or government agency was to blame for the problem.

The survey defined identity theft as a situation where someone obtains and uses the identity of another person to secure credit, merchandise or other commercial items.

Credit cards were the most frequently targeted. About 34% of those who knew how their IDs were stolen said someone obtained their credit card information to forge credit cards in their names and make purchases against them.

About 12% said someone stole or illegally obtained papers or computer records with their personal information on them, which were then used to forge their identities.

Stolen wallets and purses accounted for 11% of the cases, while 16% said a relative, friend or co-worker stole their identities, and other methods included intercepting mail and stealing from mailboxes.

The latest results are similar to those released by Gartner, which earlier this month reported that about seven million US adults had been victims of identity theft in the past 12 months. But because of victims not reporting such crimes, only one in 700 thieves had a chance of being caught.

Jaikumar Vijayan writes for IDG News Service

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