Identity theft is frustrating, confusing, and benefits from a lot of misconceptions according to new survey information. The results also point to the general lack of urgency around identity theft for many, and that can make life easier for the identity thieves and fraudsters who are working to capture your information. Understanding identity theft's impact is something everyone should be aware of: look over these latest findings to learn about today's threats of identity theft and how they continue to impact so many.
Our national online survey of 1,000 consumers age 18 and older found:
- Consumers have a large digital footprint, storing an average of 3.4 types of personal identifiable information (PII) online.
- Half don't think they're likely to ever experience identity theft because they believe poor credit makes them unappealing targets.
- A quarter have shared their credit card number or PIN with friends and family, and 20% would allow a friend or family member to use their personal information to help get a job or credit.
- While most believe credit monitoring and alerts could help prevent identity theft, few are enrolled in products that provide these services.
- Most find monitoring their finances to be so challenging they're willing to rely on banks and credit cards to catch fraud.
Most Americans store multiple types of PII online that could be valuable to identity thieves. The more data about you that thieves can get their hands on, the more damage they can do when it comes to identity theft. Some of the most common information that people unknowingly make available online:
Feeling a little insecure?
Despite general awareness that their online activities could put them at risk of identity theft, many Americans still engage in risky behaviors. What's more, tech-savvy millennials exhibit online behavior that could elevate their risks of identity theft. We found that many people are still:
Survey respondents also underestimate the general risks of identity theft and their personal exposure.
Most are only somewhat concerned about the security of their personal information online; 62% said it was a minor concern they worried about sometimes, and 17% don't worry about it at all. What's more, they're even less concerned about their PII appearing on the dark web. More than half of those surveyed either aren't concerned or are unsure what dark web exposure could mean for their identities. While the dark web is a confusing concept for many, the threat of your information becoming available there is a very real one - especially if you've been a past victim of a data breach or had information shared online more freely.
Among those who didn't worry about identity theft, top reasons for their lack of concern were:
While restricting the amount of PII stored online, taking security precautions and frequenting secure websites are help protect your identity, none of these actions are completely fail-safe. Consumers who believe these actions are enough to secure their identities may be underestimating their actual risks.
Perception vs. reality
Most respondents said they felt very or somewhat informed about identity theft, fraud, and how to protect their PII and reduce risks. Just 22% said they were not very or not at all informed.
In stark contrast to that overall confidence, a majority of respondents also shared a dangerous misconception about identity theft: 66% believed the threat of identity theft diminishes over time after PII is stolen. 14% thought risks lasted just a few days after an information theft, while 20% said a few months and 23% a few years. Just 44% knew the risk can last a lifetime.
Just half thought they were likely to become victims of identity theft, and among them, people who earned $50,000 or less annually thought they were less likely to fall prey to identity thieves than those who made more. Yet despite downplaying their personal risks, 82% still said they believed it was more likely they would experience identity theft than a home invasion.
What's more, while respondents were generally aware of ways identity theft can occur — such as through a data breach — they were less aware of other common theft tactics, such as shoulder-surfing and dumpster diving. While 85% knew data breaches and 76% knew phishing could expose them to identity theft, a lesser 60% believe criminals going through trash and mail could expose their identities, while 74% were aware of skimming information from an ATM's card reader.
How do Americans protect themselves from identity theft?
While many Americans may have misconceptions about identity theft risks, most do understand the value of taking protective and preventive steps. More than half (58%) said they know monitoring bank and credit card accounts can help them detect suspicious activity, and 55% are aware credit report monitoring and alerts are helpful. 54% were aware of the value of locking their credit reports so no one can open new lines of credit, and 47% knew identity theft insurance could help them restore their identities if they were stolen.
However, despite this awareness, few Americans are doing everything they can to prevent identity theft, the survey indicates. Just 18% use a paid credit monitoring product to protect their identities, and 13% to monitor their credit and finances. They're also more likely to keep an eye on their bank accounts and credit card statements than they are to check their credit reports for errors or suspicious activities — 73% versus 52%.
More than half of respondents felt monitoring their finances was a challenge, and 81% agreed they rely on their banks and credit card companies to catch signs of fraud for them. More than half also agreed that don't worry about identity theft because they trust that their banks and credit card companies are monitoring their accounts.
The very real impact
Slightly more than half of all respondents said they had either experienced identity theft or knew someone who had. Of the 22% who had personally experienced identity theft, the majority reported significant negative effects as a result, including:
Some are making it tougher for identity thieves
While the survey showed there is room for Americans to improve their knowledge of identity theft risks, it also revealed that many are already taking positive steps to protect their identities. Among respondents, positive actions included:
Identity theft can clearly prove challenging since there are many different ways thieves can get your personal information. It's important to stay aware and mindful of the threat and can be frustrating or leave you feeling unsure as to if there is anything that can really be done. The good news is that there certainly is, and you can find the resources and products from Experian available here to help you better understand identity theft and protect yourself.
The data points referenced in this report come from a survey commissioned by ConsumerInfo.com, Inc., an Experian company, produced by Edelman Intelligence and conducted as an online survey of n=1000 adults nationwide that took place March 17-23, 2017.
Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer or other company, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. All information, including rates and fees, are accurate as of the date of publication.
This article was originally published on May 10, 2017, and has been updated.