12 Alarming Identity Theft Stats in 2020

Identity theft is a particularly traumatizing crime that costs billions each year. However, it’s changed rapidly in the last few years.

Here’s 12 sobering stats to give you the full breakdown.

1 in 15 people are victims of identity fraud

Or, once every 2 seconds according to Verizon.

Fraud and identity theft have increased dramatically since 2001.

Source: Consumer Sentinel Network Report

Identity theft is the third top crime reported to the CSN (Consumer Sentinel Network). 15% of all complaints are identity theft.

This is only just behind debt collection complaints (16%) and imposter scams (18%).

Source: Consumer Sentinel Network Report

What’s more, almost 1 in 4 have been a victim more than once, which must be particularly traumatic and suggests once your details are ‘out there’, repeated attacks are common.

The US is the top country for identity fraud

The US is the worst country for identity theft. A shocking third of US adults reported experiencing it, which is more than twice the global average, more than 3 times than France or Germany, and more than 4 times than Italy.

Source: Wombat Security

You can see how different states are affected on this interesting map.

Source: Consumer Sentinel Network Report

Georgia, Nevada, California, Florida and Texas are the top 5 states per 100k population.

And here are the top 20 metropolitan states targeted.

Source: Consumer Sentinel Network Report

1 million children were victims of identity theft

Believe it or not, more than 1 million children were victims of identity theft in just 1 year, and the number is rising.

Kids are actually easy targets as most of their identity is digitized, including medical and school records.

They’re also naive online, and in particular on social media.

Childrens’ identities are also worth more than adults because they have clean slates in terms of credit ratings. What’s more, if a fraudster opens new credit card accounts, the child won’t realize what’s happened until they turn 18 and try to use credit for their first time, only to find their credit score destroyed.

The cost totaled a staggering $2.6 billion overall. Imagine the out-of-pocket expenses for families, which amounted to $540 million.

To prevent this from happening, we recommend regularly checking your child’s credit score, or just freezing it completely until your child turns 18.

Millennials are the top targets

In addition to being poor and generally maligned, millennials (currently aged 23-38) are also the top target for fraudsters.

Source: Consumer Sentinel Network Report

If you’re interested to know what attacks you’re vulnerable to, take a look at this table showing the most common types of fraud by age range.

Source: Consumer Sentinel Network Report

43% of identity theft victims go into debt

Financially, a shocking 43% went into debt as a result. 30% had to go to friends and family to ask for money, and 41% said they couldn’t pay their bills.

Over half hadn’t resolved the matter to their satisfaction 1 year on, which makes this an extremely long ordeal. The process of recovering their identity seemed arduous and full of red tape, and they reported dissatisfaction at the various agencies they had to deal with.

What’s worse, more victims are having to pay out of their own pocket when hit by identity theft. Almost a quarter (23%) didn’t get all their money back in 2018, which is 3 times worse than in 2016.

Surprisingly, 13% of victims didn’t even get a police report taken when they reported it to law enforcement.

Source: FTC

Severe emotional distress occurs in over 3/4s of victims.

A report by the Identity Theft Resource Center suggests that the emotional consequences can outweigh the financial.

When you’re a victim of identity theft, it’s not just one transaction – your whole identity is stolen and often besmirched with a bad credit rating, and must be recovered and restored. You must be able to prove you’re you, which is hard since someone else has been impersonating you.

Source: Identity Theft Resource Center

Identity theft can be a traumatic event, with the majority reporting overwhelming negative feelings such as feeling violated, angry, frustrated, depressed and powerless.

The majority (70%) even reported losing trust in others and feeling unsafe.

The physical effects were a major surprise. The majority had trouble sleeping (84%), increased stress (77%), concentration problems (64%), and aches, pains, headaches or stomach issues (57%).

Half even said they had lost interest in activities they previously enjoyed.

Email is the top method of approach

Email is the top method of approach for all countries, followed by phone calls. Surprisingly text message is the 3rd top method, followed by social media.

Source: Wombat Security

Identity theft is going down in the US

Good news: identity theft actually went down in the US in 2018 by 15%. That’s an enormous dent in just 1 year.

Source: Javelin Strategy

We’re unsure whether this will be a one-year blip, or a more long-term declining trend.

In contrast, fraud rose slightly in Australia by 2.3%.

And in the UK, Cifas says that it’s reached ‘epidemic levels’, with 500 fraud incidents a day.

Credit card fraud is the top method

Credit card was the top method of identity fraud in 2018.

According to the FTC, 2018 saw over 167,000 reports of either an existing card being used, or a new card being set up in their name.

Source: Consumer Sentinel Network Report

What’s more, credit card fraud was on the increase up until very recently – 2018.

Just look at this bar chart. In 2014 credit card fraud was a minor player; in 2018 it accounted for over half of all identity theft.

Source: Consumer Sentinel Network Report

From 2017 to 2018, credit card new account fraud went up by 24%, whilst tax fraud went down a massive 38%.

Source: Consumer Sentinel Network Report

Credit card fraud is changing

Credit card fraud has actually gone down overall since 2018, which is very encouraging news.

This is likely due to improved security such as real time monitoring, machine learning and tokenization.

However, fraudsters are constantly adapting their methods in a non-stop battle with new security technologies, who are trying to block them at every turn.

Every time a popular method is made more difficult, cybercriminals try a different tack, like a perverse game of whack a mole.

Card skimming, or ‘Card Present’ in fraud speak, where your card details are physically copied from an ATM or card machine, was extremely popular in the early 2010s.

That’s now gone way down, due to clever measures such as the EMV chip and more liability on ATM owners, reaching record lows.

Source: Australian Payments Network

However, ‘Card Not Present’ or ‘CNP’, has taken over, due to the massive increase in online shopping and banking.

In fact, CNP fraud is now 81% more common than card skimming.

Source: Australian Payments Network

Account takeovers, where cybercriminals get the login details for your existing account and then change the password, were the first big thing in CNP fraud.

They were on the rise from 2013-2017, but decreased from 2018, with total losses decreasing from $5.1 billion in 2017 to $4 billion in 2018.

Now, fraudsters are moving onto opening completely new accounts, after stealing enough details to do this, bypassing the chip system.

In 2018, $3.4 billion was lost in total just from this type of fraud.

Source: Javelin Strategy

Social media users are 46% more likely to be a victim

Mobile and social media are two key areas on the rise.

Mobile account takeovers are on the increase, almost doubling from 2017 to 2018 from 380,000 to 679,000.

Source: Javelin Strategy

And those using social media are particularly vulnerable.

If you use Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, you’re 46% more likely to become a victim of fraud than those not using social networks. This is due to their increased exposure.

10 billion records have been stolen in the last decade

Even though technologies are becoming better at preventing fraud, cybercriminals still have pretty easy access to consumer data due to data breaches.

This is where companies have their customer records stolen, usually by hacking, social or malware. They expose personal details ripe for identity theft.

The majority (71%) of data breaches are financially motivated.

The number of exposed records from data breaches has gone up massively in the last few years, reaching a record high.

Between 2008 and 2020, over 10 billion records were stolen from 9,600 data breaches in the US alone.

For example, in 2020 First American had 885 million financial records stolen,  including social security numbers and tax documents. This is the 2nd biggest data breach of all time.

And in 2017, the equivalent of 40% of the American population had their personal details stolen in a massive Equifax hack. This included social security numbers, driver licence numbers, addresses and birthdays. A identity hacker’s dream.

What’s more, it takes forever for customers to find out their data has been stolen. Companies take 6 months on average to even detect a breach, and then wait 3 weeks to report it. This gives consumers no chance to take preventative measures.

How to prevent becoming a victim

Fortunately, there’s some easy measures you can take today to stop yourself becoming just another identity theft statistic.

  • Use complex, different passwords for different accounts. Otherwise if a cybercriminal gets hold of one password, like your email, they can access everything. Also, to avoid getting caught out by data breaches, change passwords regularly. Password managers make this process easy.
  • Use a VPN, which encrypts all your data making you hard to hack. This is particularly useful on public wifi networks.
  • Don’t use social media, or if that’s not an option, make sure your privacy settings are high and don’t share any personal information useful to hackers. On Facebook, don’t build out your profile with lots of personal information like hometown, schools, and family connections, and never add people you haven’t personally met.
  • Install an antivirus on all your devices, particularly mobiles which people seem to forget about, and be wary of installing dodgy third-party apps.
  • Always keep your software up-to-date, as they often fix any vulnerabilities hackers are taking advantage of.
  • Try to stay up-to-date with data breaches. Security Intelligence has a great list of resources for this.
  • Check your credit score regularly to make sure your identity hasn’t been stolen. If you want to automate this, consider paying for an identity protection service such as LifeLock or IdentityForce. Though it’ll cost you, they monitor your credit score for you, and also offer insurance policies of up to 1 million to help recover losses if you get caught out.
  • If you’re a parent, regularly check your child’s credit score, or simply freeze it until it’s needed.


Overall, identity theft has increased astronomically since 2001, but last year did see a downward turn of 15% in the US for the first time.

Credit card fraud is the top method, particularly fraudsters setting up new accounts using stolen personal details.

Millennials are the top victims, though children are increasingly being targeted.

Data breaches are a prime source of data for cybercriminals, which seem to be increasing.

Methods using mobiles and social media are on the rise, with social media users are 46% more likely to be victims.

The financial ramifications for victims are severe, with 43% going into debt, and a quarter not getting their money back. The recovery process seems arduous, with the majority reporting severe emotional distress, and over half saying it hadn’t been resolved after 1 year.

Using a VPN, staying off social media, and regularly changing your passwords and checking your credit score are all easy ways to protect yourself against identity theft.

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