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1/27/2010
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Identity Thieves Successfully Targeting Wealthy Victims, Study Says

Affluent individuals who live 'the good life' are 43 percent more likely to be victims, according to Experian

If you're a security pro, then you might think the most likely victims of identity fraud are those with the most poorly protected systems and the least knowledge of computer security. Identity thieves are drawn to the easiest targets, right?

Wrong, according to a study issued today by Experian, a company that does both identity fraud protection services and marketing demographics services. In fact, the most likely victims of identity fraud are those with the most money, the study says.

The study -- which was created using Experian's unlikely combination of identity fraud incidence statistics with basic consumer demographics -- indicates that identity thieves are successfully targeting the wealthy and affluent, regardless of the systems and software they use.

According to Experian, consumers in the "Affluent Suburbia" category -- the wealthiest of the company's 12 demographic categories -- are 43 percent more likely to fall victim to identity fraud as the average credit applicant. Experian describes Affluent Suburbia as "the wealthiest households in the U.S., living in exclusive suburban neighborhoods and enjoying the best everything has to offer."

Individuals in the "Upscale America" category are 22 percent more likely to fall prey to identity fraud than the average credit applicant, Experian says. Upscale America is defined as "college-educated couples and families living in metropolitan sprawl, earning upscale incomes that provide them with large homes and very comfortable, active lifestyles."

The study offers a different perspective on identity fraud than more technical studies, which suggest the most likely victims of identity fraud are those who don't deploy security software or are ignorant of best practices.

In its study, Experian found the median income of identity fraud victims is 11 percent higher than the average credit applicant. The percentage of victims who own luxury vehicles is 26 percent higher, and the percentage of homeowners is 23 percent higher.

The Experian study suggests that identity thieves and fraudsters could be targeting victims by their neighborhoods, rather than by their computer systems or defenses.

For example, the study found that the percentage of victims found in metropolitan communities and other high-population areas is significantly higher than areas where the population is less than 20,000. In fact, consumers who live in rural areas with a population of 2,500 or less were 60 percent less likely to fall victim to identity fraud than the average consumer.

Attackers may also target users by their hobbies and interests, the study suggests. Consumers who displayed an interest in traditionally affluent avocations were much more likely to fall prey to identity thieves, the study says.

For example, users who displayed an interest in tennis were 85 percent more likely to have been victims of identity fraud than users who didn't, Experian says. Consumers who were interested in foreign travel were 70 percent more likely to be victims. Interests in cultural arts (52 percent) and skiing (50 percent) also set victims apart from nonvictims.

Experian has not yet posted the study for general viewing on the Web, but the company plans to make it available at a future date, a spokeswoman said.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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