Name Of The Game: Top 10 States For Identity Theft12:00 PM EST Wed. May. 08, 2013
States with elderly people and tourists often have the highest rates of identity theft, according to Equifax, which analyzed data from the Federal Trade Commission's 2012 Consumer Sentinel Network report. The report, released in February, contained statistics on identity theft and fraud- related complaints from all 50 states. About 54 percent of victims contacted police to log a complaint, the report found. A number of factors play into the rankings, including population size, density, income and economic conditions. For example, states with surges in unemployment see more fraud. Foreclosures also are a sign identity theft could increase, Equifax said.
Alabama ranked 10th in the FTC's 2012 Consumer Sentinel Network report. The state had 104.9 identity theft complaints per 100,000 people. Alabama ranked 12th in the 2011 report. Last month an Alabama man who worked at the Social Security Administration was sentenced to 70 months in prison in an identity theft scheme. The man reportedly used an account to steal about $325,000 in the scheme.
Maryland held onto its ninth-place position for identity theft victims. It had 105 identity theft complaints per 100,000 people. Government documents and benefits fraud ranked the highest among identity theft victims, according to the FTC data. The state ranks third for other fraud- related complaints, with residents primarily complaining about problems with banks and lenders. Legislators in Maryland enacted a law last year protecting children from identity theft. The law enables parents or guardians to open a credit record for their child, enabling them to take action such as freezing an account to prevent others from using the child's personal information to open fraudulent accounts. Florida reportedly is working on a similar law.
Arizona has long held the distinction of being the top identity theft state in the country, but identity theft has declined significantly in the past two years. It ranked fourth in 2011. Arizona now has 107.3 identity theft complaints per 100,000 people, ranking it eighth out of 50 states. State officials credited a new education program targeting seniors as key to preventing identity theft.
Texas had 108.6 identity theft complaints per 100,000 people, putting it in the seventh spot. The state's residents logged more than 28,000 identity theft complaints and more than 119,000 fraud complaints. Residents complained about impostor scams and auto-related problems, among other issues. In January, an undocumented immigrant reportedly pled guilty in assuming the identity of a Houston elementary school teacher in a case that highlighted the issue of "total" identity theft. The Mexican national lived in Topeka, Kan., and used the stolen Texas identity to get a driver's license, a mortgage, food stamps and medical care.
Nevada ranked sixth out of 50 states with 109.9 complaints per 100,000 residents. The state had more than 3,000 identity theft complaints in 2012, according to the FTC report. Fraud-related complaints were placed on debt collectors first, followed by banks and lenders, according to the report. The foreclosure crisis hit Las Vegas hard in 2011 and 2012, according to RealtyTrac data. At one point during the crisis the state had more than 2,400 foreclosure filings in North Las Vegas alone.
New York ranked fifth out of 50 states with 110.1 identity theft complaints per 100,000 people. New York ranked 25th overall for fraud and other related complaints. In addition to an identity theft law, New York has a state technology law and general business laws that address data breach notification. People can request one free credit report each year from all three agencies at annualcreditreport.com, Equifax said. A thorough review should be done to find fraudulent accounts and other inaccuracies.
Michigan had 122.2 complaints per 100,000 people, putting it in fourth place for the number of identity theft complaints. It's a big increase in complaints over the 2011 report, when it ranked 13th place overall. The state also had a high number of fraud complaints related to prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries, and telephone and mobile services issues. Equifax said people who find fraudulent accounts should reach out immediately to banks or creditors to ask them to stop reporting the issue to the agency. The request should trigger an investigation.
California had the third highest rate of identity theft complaints. The state had 122.7 complaints per 100,000 people, according to the FTC report. States with metro areas that have surges in unemployment and foreclosures may be at risk for more identity theft, Equifax said. Foreclosures in California increased significantly in 2012, at one point last year besting Nevada, which was hit hard by the housing crisis, according to RealtyTrac data. California ranked 11th out of 50 states for fraud complaints. Residents there complained about potential Internet services scams, debt collectors and other issues.
Georgia had 193.9 complaints per 100,000 people, according to the FTC report. Georgia residents complained about potential fraud from debt collectors the most, followed by banks and lenders and shop-at-home and catalog sales services scams. Individuals that suspect suspicious information in their credit files should apply a security freeze. The freeze prevents lenders from reviewing credit history information, stopping them from issuing credit. Each credit reporting agency needs to be contacted separately to institute a freeze, Equifax said.
Florida holds the dubious title of being a haven for identity theft. The state has 361.3 complaints per 100,000 people, according to the FTC report. The report also said Florida has the highest per capita rate of reported fraud and other types of complaints. The high rate could be due to the state's transient population, high number of tourists and high percentage of elderly people, according to the credit agency. People who suspect identity theft can request a fraud alert from one of the three U.S. credit reporting agencies. Placing a fraud alert prevents new credit accounts from being opened without authorization.