Identity Theft Is on the Rise, Both in Incidents and Losses

Quick Answer

Incidents of identity theft and related fraud rose nationwide in 2021, according to the FTC:

  • Fraud complaints increased 19% for the year, to more than 5.8 million.
  • Financial losses from fraud rose 77% from the previous year, to more than $6.1 billion.
  • The number of consumer identity theft complaints rose 3.3%, to just over 1.43 million.
Identity Theft Is on the Rise, Both in Incidents and Losses article image.

Incidents of fraud and identity theft surged in 2021, seemingly fueled by criminal exploitation of anxiety and confusion over the COVID-19 pandemic. Financial losses from those crimes also increased overall and on a per-incident basis.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received more than 5.88 million fraud reports in 2021, a 19% increase from the year prior. Reports of associated financial losses topped $6.1 billion, an increase of more than 77% compared with 2020.

In the first half of 2022, identity theft complaints across the country slowed somewhat compared with their pace during the first half of 2021. Credit card-related fraud is once again the most common type of fraud now that the wave of government-benefits fraud in 2020 and 2021 has subsided, according to the FTC.

Fraud Statistics

Identity theft complaints topped the list of fraud reports the FTC received in 2021, with 1,434,695 complaints. ID theft made up about 24% of the 5,883,409 reports of fraud, identity theft and other complaints.

The most commonly reported fraud category after identity theft was imposter scams, which were responsible for 995,789 reports and close to $2.4 billion in losses—nearly doubling the roughly $1.2 billion attributed to the category in 2020. In an imposter scam, a criminal poses as a representative of a trusted institution or government agency in order to steal money or personal information.

The third-most reported form of fraud for 2021, online shopping scams, led to about $393 million in reported losses from consumers—up from $251 million in 2020, the FTC reported. Online shopping scams include crimes in which goods or services purchased online are never delivered; sold items are not what the seller represented in an advertisement or sales listing; sellers are swindled; or false negative customer reviews are used to harass or intimidate sellers.

Top Fraud Incident Report Categories for 2021
Category Number of Complaints
Identity theft 1,434,695
Imposter scams 995,789
Online shopping and negative reviews 410,399
Prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries 154,785
Internet services 106,246
Business and job opportunities 104,288
Telephone and mobile services 97,977
Investment related 81,923
Health care 68,924
Travel, vacations and timeshare plans 62,196
Foreign money offers and fake check scams 39,113

Source: FTC

Identity Theft Statistics

Complaints over identity theft, in which a victim's personal information is used to open credit card or bank accounts, obtain loans or make purchases, also increased in 2021, the FTC reported. The number of consumer identity theft complaints in the U.S. rose 3.3%, to just over 1.43 million from about 1.39 million in 2020, the FTC reported.

The most common form of identity theft in 2021, as had been the case in 2020, was government documents or benefits fraud. This came in the wake of FTC consumer warnings and enforcement efforts targeting criminal exploitation of confusion and anxiety over the COVID-19 pandemic. Government documents or benefits fraud drew 396,012 complaints in 2021.

Credit card fraud, the most common form of identity theft from 2017 through 2019, was the second-most common form of identity theft in 2021, with 389,845 reported incidents, according to the FTC.

Top Identity Theft Report Categories
Category Number of Complaints
Government documents or benefits fraud 396,012
Credit card fraud 389,845
Other identity theft 377,203
Loan or lease fraud 197,967
Bank fraud 124,497
Employment or tax-related fraud 111,755
Phone or utilities fraud 88,842

Source: FTC

For the first half of 2022, the FTC reported that credit card fraud had again become the most common type of identity theft reported in the country, generating 230,937 complaints, out of a total of 603,591 identity theft incidents reported nationwide for the six-month period.

How Scammers Engage Victims

With respect to identity fraud scams, the most common means by which criminals engaged victims was by phone, according to the FTC. Phone scams led to 646,440 complaints in 2021 and led to reported financial losses of $699 million. The median amount lost per phone scam incident was $1,200, the highest associated with any contact method, the agency reported.

Scams that used social media as a means of contact drew only about a quarter of the number of complaints that phone scams did in 2021, but they led to a greater total financial loss than any other form of contact—$797 million, with median losses per incident of $400, the FTC reported.

Identity Theft Reports and Losses by Contact Method
Contact Method Number of Reports Total Losses Median Loss
Phone call 646,440 $699M $1,200
Text 378,119 $131M $900
Email 264,069 $329M $800
Website or apps 180,114 $660M $300
Social media 159,458 $797M $400
Other 115,730 $683M $611
Mail 43,915 $67M $820
Online ad or pop-up 36,731 $96M $181

Source: FTC

Identity Theft Statistics by State

Rhode Island ranked highest in incidents of identity theft reported per 100,000 residents in 2021, with 1,844 reports per 100,000 residents, according to the FTC. Rounding out the ranks of the top five states for ID theft complaints by population were Kansas, Illinois, Colorado and New York.

Identity Theft Reports by State
Rank State/Territory Reports per 100K Residents Total Complaints Reported
1 Rhode Island 1,844 19,505
2 Kansas 1,254 36,527
3 Illinois 642 81,620
4 Colorado 452 25,720
5 New York 249 48,515
6 Ohio 242 28,272
7 Arizona 213 15,251
8 Nevada 211 6,383
9 Maryland 170 10,259
10 Georgia 163 17,156
11 Louisiana 154 7,186
12 Florida 148 31,334
13 Texas 148 42,405
14 Delaware 131 1,271
15 Kentucky 118 5,277
16 Alabama 108 5,288
17 District of Columbia 108 756
18 Pennsylvania 106 13,510
19 Hawaii 99 1,406
20 South Carolina 98 5,001
21 Massachusetts 94 6,483
22 California 93 36,672
23 Mississippi 93 2,782
24 North Carolina 85 8,824
25 Tennessee 85 5,777
26 Maine 84 1,121
27 New Jersey 82 7,261
28 New Hampshire 81 1,095
29 Missouri 78 4,759
30 Oregon 76 3,188
31 Idaho 75 1,314
32 Arkansas 71 2,134
33 Indiana 70 4,659
34 Michigan 68 6,757
35 West Virginia 68 1,224
36 Minnesota 64 3,569
37 New Mexico 63 1,314
38 Utah 62 1,945
39 Virginia 62 5,288
40 Connecticut 61 2,163
41 Oklahoma 61 2,401
42 Washington 61 4,580
43 North Dakota 55 419
44 Wisconsin 54 3,161
45 Vermont 52 327
46 Wyoming 45 259
47 Nebraska 43 829
48 Alaska 42 312
49 Iowa 41 1,285
50 Montana 41 434
51 South Dakota 27 239
52 Puerto Rico 12 385

Source: FTC

Non-Identity Theft Fraud Statistics by State

Consumers reported 2,878,566 incidents of non-identity theft fraud in 2021, which resulted in more than $6.1 billion in financial losses, with a median loss of $500 per incident.

On a per-100,000 resident basis, Washington, D.C., ranked highest in the number of incidents reported, with 1,761 incidents per 100,000 residents. Rounding out the top five states or territories were Georgia, Nevada, Maryland and Delaware, according to the FTC.

Non-Identity Theft Reports by State
Rank State/Territory Reports per 100K Residents Total Complaints Reported
1 District of Columbia 1,761 12,365
2 Georgia 1,483 155,979
3 Nevada 1,479 44,824
4 Maryland 1,466 88,516
5 Delaware 1,465 14,178
6 Florida 1,448 307,204
7 Louisiana 1,286 60,001
8 Alabama 1,262 61,741
9 Pennsylvania 1,244 159,126
10 Tennessee 1,239 83,878
11 South Carolina 1,201 61,171
12 Alaska 1,171 8,633
13 Colorado 1,170 66,521
14 Virginia 1,150 97,823
15 New Jersey 1,142 101,491
16 Texas 1,127 322,708
17 Arizona 1,117 80,129
18 New York 1,111 216,789
19 Illinois 1,106 140,587
20 North Carolina 1,094 113,668
21 Rhode Island 1,093 11,567
22 Washington 1,059 79,589
23 California 1,024 402,996
24 Ohio 1,024 119,535
25 Massachusetts 1,016 69,847
26 Oregon 1,012 42,279
27 Missouri 995 60,960
28 New Hampshire 982 13,306
29 Connecticut 947 33,802
30 Mississippi 940 28,021
31 Michigan 922 91,938
32 New Mexico 915 19,183
33 Indiana 898 60,105
34 Vermont 890 5,555
35 Hawaii 874 12,413
36 Kansas 872 25,407
37 Utah 861 27,145
38 Arkansas 859 25,877
39 Maine 854 11,451
40 Idaho 850 14,915
41 Kentucky 846 37,751
42 Minnesota 841 47,110
43 Montana 840 8,922
44 Wisconsin 836 48,523
45 West Virginia 818 14,786
46 Oklahoma 812 32,071
47 Wyoming 764 4,444
48 Nebraska 726 13,972
49 Iowa 659 20,759
50 North Dakota 631 4,800
51 South Dakota 572 5,027
52 Puerto Rico 262 8,527

Source: FTC

The Financial and Emotional Impacts of Identity Theft

The most recent Consumer Aftermath Report from the Identity Theft Research Center (ITRC) focused specifically on the effects COVID-related identity fraud had on individuals victimized in 2021 and also considered the financial and emotional toll of pre-pandemic identity crimes.

Among victims asked about pre-pandemic crimes:

  • 29% reported having had a prior incident of identity fraud.
  • 32% reported having financial-related identity problems, including credit- and credit card-related fraud. Of these:
    • 100% indicated they had been contacted by debt collection services seeking payment for debts that were not their own.
    • 83% reported being turned down for credit or loan applications.
    • 83% reported difficulty renting apartments or finding housing.
  • 29% reported being victimized by government-related fraud, and 57% of that group reported imposters obtaining driver's licenses in their name.
  • 10% reported having crime-related identity problems. Among these victims:
    • 57% said criminals used their credentials when identifying themselves to law enforcement.
    • 57% said warrants had been issued for their arrest because of crimes an identity thief committed.

The emotional impact of identity theft includes frustration over the time required to address the fallout, which may include loss of work. In 2021, 79% of victims reported adverse emotional consequences. Of this group:

How Quickly Can You Tell if Your Identity Was Stolen?

The typical amount of time required to detect identity theft is evidently shrinking: The ITRC reported in its 2016 Aftermath study that it took three months for most victims to learn their identities had been stolen. Five years later, 21% of victims reporting crimes to the ITRC said they detected unauthorized activity within one day and 16% said they discovered the crime within one week of its occurrence.

Victims reported discovering identity crimes in the following ways:

  • 42% checked their credit reports
  • 41% noticed unauthorized transactions on their accounts
  • 36% received a bill for goods or services they didn't buy

Regular reviews of your credit reports and accounts is an effective way to stay on top of potential threats.

What Should You Do if You're an Identity Theft Victim?

If you are a victim of identity theft, you should report it immediately to appropriate law enforcement authorities. You can also take these steps:

  1. Submit a report about the theft to the Federal Trade Commission's website or call the FTC's toll-free hotline at 877-IDTHEFT (438-4338).
  2. Consider placing a fraud alert or security freeze on your credit reports.
  3. Inform your creditors and financial institutions. Let creditors know if fraudulent accounts have been created in your name, and alert existing lenders and banks so that they're aware to look for indicators of additional theft.
  4. Review all of your bank account documentation in the days, weeks and even months after any indication of fraud or identity theft. Review account statements for unfamiliar transactions and consider using a credit monitoring service to detect unauthorized access to your credit reports.
  5. If you are the victim of medical ID theft, notify your insurer and medical providers, get copies of your medical files and ask to have them corrected. You can also consider filing a health-privacy complaint with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services online or call 800-368-1019.
  6. If you are the victim of tax-related ID theft, contact the IRS.

The Bottom Line

Fraud and identity theft are growth industries in the U.S., and criminals are constantly changing tactics to lure unwary victims and avoid law enforcement. It's important to know how to respond if you or a loved one are victimized, but even more preferable to avoid becoming a victim in the first place.

Increasing your awareness of these crimes and the many forms they take, and using available tools such as identity theft and credit protection from Experian can help you recognize criminal activity and shut it down before it does lasting damage.

Methodology: The analysis results provided are based on an Experian-created statistically relevant aggregate sampling of our consumer credit database that may include use of the FICO® Score 8 version. Different sampling parameters may generate different findings compared with other similar analysis. Analyzed credit data did not contain personal identification information. Metro areas group counties and cities into specific geographic areas for population censuses and compilations of related statistical data.

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