According to Javelin Strategy & Research's "2010 Identity Fraud Survey Report," the number of identity fraud victims in the United States increased 12 percent to 11.1 million adults in 2009, while the total annual fraud amount increased by 12.5 percent to $54 billion.
Yet while fraud is up, consumers are fighting back, the study says. Nearly half of all victims now file police reports, resulting in double the reported arrests, triple the prosecutions, and double the percentage of convictions in 2009, according to the data.
"People are becoming frustrated with [the identity fraud] situation, and they want to do something about it," says James Van Dyke, Javelin's president and founder. "They're taking action. They're getting more educated."
The numbers are encouraging, but they aren't necessarily a sign that identity fraud is getting under control, according to Michael Stanfield, chairman and CEO of identity theft service provider Intersections, which co-sponsored the study.
"The numbers show that more fires are being put out quicker, but I'm not sure that's a good thing," Stanfield says. "What we really need is fewer fires."
The increase in arrests and prosecutions is a reflection of the increased incidence of identity theft, Stanfield observes. "The criminals are at an advantage," he says. "Malware is increasing by an order of magnitude. I don't see that police resources are increasing at a rate that justifies the massive leap in prosecutions that's indicated in this report. We're not winning this battle yet."
The study shows there is more work to be done, Van Dyke says. "Roughly half of all identity fraud victims don't know how their data was accessed in the first place," he states. "The majority of victims don't know the perpetrator. It's really an education problem."
Criminals are evolving in their online attacks, the study says. While previous attacks focused on grabbing existing credit cards, for example, one of the most popular attacks today is using keyloggers to grab data that enables the bad guys to fraudulently create new accounts.
The number of fraudulent new credit card accounts increased to 39 percent of all identity fraud victims, up from 33 percent in 2008, the study says. New online accounts opened fraudulently more than doubled compared to the previous year, and the number of new email payment accounts increased 12 percent. Twenty-nine percent of victims reported new mobile phone accounts were fraudulently opened.
Small-business owners experience identity fraud at a rate one-and-a-half times greater than average adults, Stanfield notes. "One of the big mistakes that small businesses make is to use their personal accounts for the business," he warns. "That can create problems for both the individual and the business."
Despite the increasing incidence of attacks, average fraud resolution time actually dropped 30 percent last year, to 21 hours. "Institutions are doing a better job of communicating with the consumer, and consumers are acting faster," Stanfield says. "The consumer is getting money back into his account, and the appropriate authorities are notified faster."
"Faster detection translates into lower costs for consumers, and faster resolution means less stress and anxiety for victims," says Anne Wallace, president of the Identity Theft Assistance Center, which also co-sponsored the study. "We're encouraged by these findings."
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