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Identity fraud on the rise -- up 12% to 11.1 million adults affected in 2009

February 10, 2010 | 10:39 am

The number of identity fraud victims soared 12% last year, but they are striking back faster and more thoroughly, according to a report released Wednesday.

The economic downturn may have sparked the increase, according to Javelin Strategy & Research, which concluded that victims lost $54 billion, a 12.5% swell. The number of consumers hit by fraud jumped for the second year in a row, to 11.1 million adults, the highest level since the survey was launched in 2003.

The defrauders, many working out of Eastern European crime rings, are using ever more sophisticated methods. But criminals are still targeting wallets, checkbooks, credit cards and other physical identification carriers twice as often as they use computer viruses, phishing scams or other digital tricks.

The information is then used by 42% of thieves for in-person or online purchases, and 21% use the data to shop over the phone or through mail. Some obtain healthcare or buy prepaid cards with the stolen names, birthdates or Social Security numbers; 10% withdraw cash from ATMs or write checks. 

Last year, the number of new credit card accounts that were opened fraudulently shot up 39%, while new online accounts more than doubled and new e-mail payment accounts boomed 12%. Nearly 3 in 10  victims said their data had been used to open cell phone accounts.

And at least 13% of all identity crimes from 2009 were committed by someone whom the target had known.

But victims are now much more vigilant in detecting and dealing with fraud -- the average resolution time declined 30% to 21 hours last year. Out-of-pocket costs for fraud targets averaged $373, but those unreimbursed losses, legal fees and time taken off work also dropped.

Nearly half of new victims now file police reports, doubling the number of reported arrests, tripling the prosecutions and doubling the percentage of convictions.

Still, most fraud continues to go undiscovered, according to the report, co-sponsored by Fiserv, Intersections Inc., Wells Fargo and Identity Theft Assistance Center. The survey was conducted through telephone calls to more than 5,000 U.S. consumers in November, including 703 fraud victims.

Of those, some demographics are more vulnerable. Small-business owners, for example, often use personal accounts to run their companies and are constantly making transactions, making them one-and-a-half times more likely than other adults to experience fraud.

Consumers ages 18 to 24, who often share computers and use them in public settings, tend to be slower in noticing identity thievery.

-- Tiffany Hsu

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