One out of every 20 Americans has been victimized by identity theft, according to a new survey of more than 2,000 people by STAR Systems.
The survey, conducted in November 2002, found that 5.5% of those polled replied yes when asked if they had "ever been the victim of identity theft," defined as "a criminal's wholesale takeover of another person's identity (including) name, date of birth, social security number, bank and/or loan account number, for fraudulent financial gain." Extrapolated to the total adult U.S. population (according to the 2000 census), the survey results indicate that nearly 12 million people may have been victims of identity theft.
"At least 13 bills were introduced in Congress last year to address this issue," said STAR President Ronald V. Congemi. "While legislation is desperately needed, the total solution will require businesses and government agencies at all levels working together to investigate and prosecute these crimes."
Of the victims identified in the survey, STAR Systems said each was asked about the circumstances of their identity theft. The most common methods included having "credit cards in your name issued to another person" (29%); having "bank accounts in your name opened by another person" (23%), and having "loans (opened) in your name by another person" (21%).
When asked if they knew "how your personal information was taken," the most common response (35%) was that respondents simply did not know. Of those who did know, the most frequent explanation (16%) was a lost or stolen wallet.
In addition, all 2,000 respondents were asked if they "personally" know someone who has ever been the victim of identity theft. Nineteen percent answered yes.
The research was conducted by Market Facts/TeleNation on behalf of STAR between Nov. 8 and 10, 2002.
The margin of error was 1 plus or minus- 2.2% for the complete sample of 2,000 respondents, and 1 plus or minus- 1.0% for the sub-sample of 109 identity theft victims.
The other challenge to combating identity theft and identity fraud, according to STAR, was previously outlined in an earlier report sponsored by the company, "Heightened Security: Can Financial Institutions Really Know Their Customers?," relates to legitimate identity documents available in thousands of formats across the United States.
"Drivers licenses, which typically include a photo and sometimes bear the holder's Social Security number, have become a de facto national identity card," the company said. "But neither drivers licenses nor other key identity documents are issued with the appropriate safeguards for ensuring national security in the wake of September 11."