Who is a target for identity theft? Actually, all individuals with a social security number are considered identity theft targets. However, based on age, income, and financial activity, some identity theft targets are more at risk than others – and it isn’t just strangers who might be after your information.
Statistics compiled by the National Institute of Justice show that identity theft victims are most likely to be victimized by someone who they know and who has access to the victim’s personal information, no matter which target group the victim falls under. That’s why it’s so important to know your true risk of identity theft, and what you can do to protect yourself.
Group at Risk: The Middle Aged
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, people between the ages of 35 and 49 are most likely to experience identity theft. In 2005, 2.27 million individuals in this age range reported some form of identity theft, and this number jumped to 2.76 million in 2010. The next most targeted age group is those between the ages of 50 and 64, of whom 2.47 million experienced identity theft in 2010.
There are several reasons why this group is at risk: On average, they earn higher incomes, have a higher number of existing credit accounts, and may be perceived as less financially savvy than younger potential victims. However, the average is only a baseline.
My aunt fits in to this group as an identity theft target, and just last week she received a phone call from “her grandson, on vacation,” a classic money wiring and identity theft scam. She played along as an excited grandma, asking so many questions about the weather, sights, and people on this “vacation” the scammer eventually hung up. This is one way to protect yourself (if you have the time), but people in this age group can also prevent identity theft by:
- Making sure all mail and personal information discarded is shredded
- Closing inactive accounts that are unlikely to be used in the future
- Being appropriately suspicious of unsolicited calls, mail, and home visits
Group At Risk: Teens and Tweens
Statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice show that while overall, fewer individuals aged between 12 and 17 are targeted for identity theft than any other age group, more individuals as a percentage within this age group have experienced identity theft than any other single group. In 2010, 10.2% of all individuals between the ages of 12 and 17 had experienced identity theft, compared to 8.5% between the ages of 18 and 25, and 7.6% between the ages of 25 and 34.
That makes teens and tweens prime identity theft targets. Since this age group does not typically own credit cards or other financial accounts except as joint owners with parents or guardians, most identity theft cases involving teens and tweens are centered on new, unauthorized accounts opened with their information and a falsified birth date by an identity thief.
This is bad news for these victims, because the Federal Trade Commission indicates that of all types of identity theft, new account identity theft leads to the highest average loss and the most average time for victims to resolve, about $1,350 and 10 hours, respectively. That’s why this age group should prevent identity theft by:
- Ensuring that personal information is only shared on a need to know basis
- Having a copy of their credit reports pulled at least once a year
- Keeping an eye out for unsolicited credit and other offers that should only come once a credit history is established
Group At Risk: High Income Earners
Reports of identity theft to the U.S. Department of Justice show that households earning an annual combined income of $75,000 or more are by far at the highest risk for identity theft. In 2005, 2.05 million such households, or 9.5% of all households earning $75,000 a year or more, experienced identity theft; in 2010, that increased to an amazing 2.83 million households. This means that 12.3% of all households earning $75,000 or above a year were victimized.
This statistic is not surprising in and of itself, since one would expect identity thieves to gravitate towards those with more disposable income to hide their crimes. What is startling is that the higher income bar starts so low; $75,000 is typically considered middle class. These earners can help deter identity theft by:
- Enrolling in credit protection services such as LifeLock
- Regularly checking credit reports from the three major bureaus
- Utilizing good online security practices, like installing firewalls and anti-virus
Group At Risk: Credit Card Users
When the U.S. Department of Justice decided to investigate where most cases of identity theft are originating, the answer was clear: Existing credit card accounts are involved in 54% of all identity theft cases. A further 25.6% of cases involved a different type of existing account, like accounts at banks or credit unions. What this means is that if you have open credit or debit accounts, you are a prime identity theft target.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, the average loss for identity theft using an existing credit card account only is $350, compared to an average $1,350 loss when an identity thief acquires enough information to begin opening unauthorized new accounts. However, in 5% of cases investigated by the Federal Trade Commission, losses from existing credit cards topped $7,000 or more. Stop this from happening to you by:
- Using strong passwords for all financial and email accounts
- Checking credit card and financial statements every month as they arrive
- Checking your credit reports at least quarterly
The crime of identity theft is becoming all too common, but even if you meet the profile for one or more common identity theft targets, there are ways to protect yourself. Make sure you are keeping your financial information private, and keep reading Stumble Forward to learn how to reduce your risk of identity theft and strengthen your financial position.