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Identity Theft

Special Feature
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What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft and identity fraud refer to crimes in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another individual’s personal identifying information in a way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain.

Identity theft can cause far more damage than the loss of money or ruined credit. Following identity theft, victims may face challenges obtaining employment or housing due to the negative financial consequences of identity theft. Victims of identity theft can also suffer significant emotional and physical stress due to the crime.

How big a problem is identity theft?

A report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics states that an estimated 23 million U.S. residents aged 16 or older reported being victims of identity theft in 2018. For 90% of these victims, the crime involved the misuse or attempted misuse of at least one type of existing account, such as a credit card or bank account. Victims reported more than $15 billion in financial losses due to identity theft in 2018.

However, because many such crimes are never reported to law enforcement, the full extent of identity theft can be challenging to measure. Only an estimated 7% of identity theft victims in 2018 reported the crime to police. Instead, most victims (88%) contacted a credit card company or bank about the crime. Most victims said they didn’t report the crime to police because it was handled in another way, most often by contacting their financial institution.

Older individuals are particularly vulnerable to identity theft crimes. In the fiscal year 2019, identity theft, fraud, and financial crimes were the second most common type of victimization reported by older victims.

What is OJP doing to help victims of identity theft?

Supported by the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) provides free identity crime advice and victim assistance. The ITRC provides tips and strategies for preventing personal and business identity theft and offers live, direct identity crime advice and victim assistance at no cost. In FY 2022, OVC awarded $2 Million to the ITRC to enhance and expand its national hotline operations, allowing it to respond to new threats and challenges for identity theft and cybercrime victims.

If you believe you are a victim of identity theft, contact the ITRC hotline at 888-400-5530 or through their chat feature. The Federal Trade Commission’s IdentityTheft.gov website can also help you report and recover from identity theft.

Infographics from data from the prevalence of ID Theft in the US

OJP also helps victims of identity theft service providers

The Identity Theft and Fraud Research Report from the Center for Victim Research provides an overview of the current state of identity theft based on research and practical experience. It aims to help victim service providers identify areas for improvement in addressing identity fraud and other forms of victimization.

Additionally, OVC offers a free, self-paced online training program to help service providers serve victims of identity theft and assist with their financial and emotional recovery.

For victim service providers, understanding the varied needs of identity theft victims is an important step in improving responses to them. Developed with support from OVC, the 2020 NITVAN Identity Theft Coalition Building Toolkit supports victim service providers and others in addressing the rights and needs of identity theft victims.

Date Modified: February 22, 2024
Date Created: August 13, 2020

More on Identity Theft from OJP

Visit the following pages for additional information and resources produced or sponsored by the Office of Justice Programs and other federal agencies:

Identity Theft Publications Additional Identity Theft Resources