Identity Theft Up 22 Percent, Study Finds

Nearly 10 million Americans lost a combined total of $48 million in 2008—up 22 percent from the year before, according to a study from Javelin Strategy & Research, released Monday. Identity theft had been trending down during the past three years, but the faltering economy may be at least partly to blame for the uptick.

"Identity fraud has been dropping until last year [when]—boom—there was a turn-up," James Van Dyke, president of Javelin, said in an interview with Reuters. "The only thing we can logically attribute that to is the economy. If people need to make money, and decide to do so illicitly, identity fraud is the logical opportunity."

The number of victims increased to a record 9.9 million in 2008 from 8.1 million a year earlier. That equates to roughly one in 23 U.S. adults being victimized. The average victim's loss was less than previous year's, however, falling 12 percent to $4,849 from $5,488. Consumers also spent less to clear their names—an average of $496, down 31 percent. In addition, more than half of the 4,784 respondents spent nothing to rectify the situation.

Among the other findings: Victims were more often women, earned more than $75,000 annually, were Hispanic, and were between 35 and 44 years old. Forty-three percent of incidents were traced to lost or stolen wallets, checkbooks, and credit and debit cards. Approximately 25 percent had their ATM cards compromised, while online fraud resulted in 11 percent of cases.

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