Approximately 17.6 million people over the age of 16 reported at least one incident of identity theft in 2014, according to a new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The report also indicated that debt collectors are playing an important role in alerting consumers about suspicious account activity.

Nearly 14% of consumers who reported they were victims of “other identity theft” - meaning something beyond stealing from one of their existing accounts - reported that communication with a debt collector first alerted them to the fraud.

Less than 3% of all identity theft victims ended up communicating with debt collectors about charges and bills that were made as a result of the ID theft, according to Erika Harrell, a statistician with the Bureau of Justice Statistics. If the identity theft occurred with an existing consumer account, which is the case in most identity theft cases, then the percentage of consumers communicating with with debt collectors falls to 1.6%.

The Victims of Identity Theft 2014 report found that cases of identity theft have been relatively steady since 2012. Existing bank accounts (38%) or credit card accounts (42%) were the most common forms of information misused by identity thieves. Overall, 16.4 million consumers reported the unauthorized misuse or attempted misuse of an existing account in 2014.

While communication with debt collectors is playing an important role, most identity theft victims hear about such problems through their financial institution. 

Forty-five percent of identity theft victims learned about it through their financial institution compared to 18% who found out when they noticed fraudulent charges on an account, according to the report. Overall, debt collectors are the seventh most likely group or business to notify a consumer about identity theft.

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