Identity Theft: The Statistics You Need To Know

In October, major credit firm Equifax admitted that they had been hacked months earlier. They had been covering the incident up since May, with some major shareholders conveniently selling their stocks shortly before they broke the news.

It was too little too late, to say the least. An estimated 150 million Americans are now at increased risk of identity theft, with their personal details, including social security numbers, at the mercy of the hackers and whoever they can sell them to.

But what you may not be aware of is that the Equifax breach only worsened an already serious situation. We spend a lot of time online, and expose a lot of personal information. Most of us ignore online safety tips and news until it’s too late.

In order to alert you to the seriousness of the matter, here are some pertinent statistics on identity theft.

The cost

How much do you think identity theft costs consumers a year? Your answer is probably nowhere near the actual amount. In 2016 alone, $16 billion was stolen from U.S. consumers due to identity theft. Now, that was spread amongst 15.4 million Americans, which means on average each consumer lost just over $1,000. Of course, some lost a lot more, and some a lot less.

Because microchip credit cards, which were introduced in 2015, are much better secured, these numbers should have decreased. However, they have in fact increased, with thieves opening credit cards and other financial accounts using stolen information.

The crimes

So, how exactly are identity thieves using victims’ information. Well, the most common type of identity theft fraud is employment or tax-related fraud. This accounts for 34% of cases. Regular tax fraud accounts for 29%, and credit card fraud 32.7%

Information is used to open new accounts 25.6% of the time.

The rest is split between phone or utilities fraud, bank fraud, loan or lease fraud, and government documents or benefits fraud. The rather vague “other identity theft” accounts for 16% of cases.

Who else is making money?

Of course, the thieves aren’t the only ones making money. Insurance for identity theft has become more and more popular, with Nationwide Mutual Group reaping the highest benefits – $36.5 million in 2016 alone. The sad truth is that it’s probably not all that helpful in any case.

The Equifax cover-up was set in motion to help directors and shareholders get their money out in time, leaving the biggest losses to those not privileged to be in the know.

Stay safe

The good news is that you can protect yourself to some extent from identity theft. When a major company is the source of your information, there’s little you can do, but you can be vigilant when using the internet in general.

Make sure to use a virtual private network (VPN) whenever you're online. This encrypts your data and hides your location, making it much more difficult for hackers to steal it. At the very least, use a VPN when using public wifi, which is the most at risk you will be.