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Research Brief: Identity Theft and Fraud

NCJ Number
Date Published
March 2019
6 pages
This overview of identity theft and fraud discusses their features, prevalence, harms, risk of victimization, the nature and effects of victim services, and how related policy, practice, and research need to improve.

Fraud refers to crimes in which deceptive or false acts are committed for personal, typically financial, gain. Identity fraud is a subcategory in which personally identifying information of others (e.g., social security number, birth date, credit card) is used to commit fraud. Although identity theft and identity fraud are often used interchangeably, not all theft of personally identifying information results in fraud; therefore, this brief focuses on identity fraud and other, non-identity, frauds. Millions of people in the United States become victims of identity theft and fraud each year, knowingly or unknowingly. according to 2017 consumer reports to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The most common types of identity fraud were credit card fraud, employment/tax fraud, and utilities fraud. Young adults are among the most victims of identity fraud, and older adults are at higher risk of other frauds, such as fraudulent prize promotions. Latin and Black individuals are more likely to experience most common non-identity-related frauds covered by the FTC's Fraud Survey. Lower income persons are susceptible to frauds such as debt relief frauds, job scams, prize scams, and weight-loss product scams; on the other hand, high-income persons my be more likely to be victims of identity fraud, especially regarding the use of existing accounts. Harms experienced by victims of both types of offenses can be economic, health-related, legal, and social. Existing and needed victim services pertain to education and outreach as prevention measures, relief from economic harms, and legal services. Suggested practices, research, and policy are outlined. 19 references