Identity theft victimizes 17 million people every year in the U.S.
And with more financial transactions moving online, thieves have more opportunities to steal our identities. In 2017, hackers stole 158 million Social Security numbers, 8 times more than in 2016. During that same period, more than 14 million credit card numbers were exposed, up 88% from the previous year.
A common misconception is that identity thieves only target high-income people. However, lower- and middle-income people are also impacted. The U.S. Department of Justice defines a victim of identity theft as someone who has experienced the unauthorized use of an existing account (such as a banking or telephone account), an unauthorized attempt to set up a new account in their name, or the use of their personal information to commit fraud, such as renting an apartment under a stolen name.
Credit card fraud is the most common crime identity thieves commit. Other common uses of stolen data are tax and employment fraud and misusing phone, utility, and bank accounts. But beyond the direct harm of having money stolen, identity theft can have surprising impacts:
- Losses from taking time off work or school
- Out-of-pocket expenses to restore identities and credit ratings
- Interest on loans due to identity theft losses