Identity theft, despite ever-more consumer education about how to avoid it, is actually getting worse over time. 2012 saw a 32% increase over 2011 in terms of the raw number of instances, according to The Identity Theft Resource Center, a non-profit organization established to support victims of identity theft in resolving their cases.
The FTC estimates that as many as 15 million people are the victim of identity theft every year, with the attack vectors coming from many directions. In 2012 the number of complaints reported to the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network grew to 2,061,495, up from 1,895,012 in 2011, for an increase of nearly 9%.
Overall, the ITRC said that 46.4% of its reported cases involved issues with government documents or benefits fraud. This represents a drastic spike of nearly 70% over the previous year.
“These types of cases very often involve the use of Social Security numbers making them more complex than other types of identity theft,” said ITRC CEO Eva Casey Velasquez. “As we are fully into tax season, we anticipate that there will continue to be increases in the reporting of this crime. Government-related identity theft has averaged approximately 25% of total cases handled by the ITRC for the last two years and was 25% of our total cases in January 2013 as well. We will continue to monitor these trends and will release our 2013 tax time numbers in April.”
In a state-by-state comparison, Florida continues to rank first in this type of identity theft, with 72% of the reported complaints involving government tax or benefits fraud. Georgia (+66%), Mississippi (+58%), Michigan (+54%) and Louisiana (+53%) rounded out the top five states.
For all types of ID theft, those states with the highest rate of change in 2012 over 2011 are as follows: Alaska (30%); Rhode Island (25%); Wisconsin, Kentucky, West Virginia and Maine (23%); Michigan 22%; and Florida and Kansas (21%).
Kansas ranked 35th in percentage of government tax or benefits complaints, but made the top 5 in rate of increase in 2012 over 2011.
The growth in reporting government ID theft, as well as the increase in reporting from several smaller states, could be a reflection of either an increase in this type of crime, or an increase in awareness and reporting, according to the ITRC. It is likely a combination of the two. While the IRS doesn’t report complaints directly to the FTC Consumer Sentinel Network, its dedicated effort to build consumer awareness and education about the issue of tax fraud has likely contributed to consumers more often reporting this issue to the FTC, thus capturing this growth.