IV. Identity Theft Victims
According to Anderson’s (2006) analysis of the FTC’s 2003 data, consumers ages 25–54, those with higher levels of income (particularly those with incomes greater than $75,000), households headed by women with three or more children, and consumers residing in the Pacific states are at the greatest risk for identity theft. Older persons, particularly those aged 75 and older, and persons in the Mountain states are at the least risk for victimization. Educational attainment and marital status had no effect on risk of victimization (Anderson, 2006). Similarly, Kresse, Watland, and Lucki’s (2007) study of identity thefts reported to the Chicago Police Department from 2000–2006 found that over 65% of victims were between the ages of 20 and 44 and that young people (under age 20) and older persons (over 65) were underrepresented among identity theft victims. The NCVS reported that households headed by persons ages 18–24 were most likely to experience identity theft, while households headed by persons ages 65 and older were least likely to experience it. Households in the highest income bracket, those earning $75,000 or more, were also most likely to be victimized (BJS, 2007).
A. Special Victims
Anyone can become a victim of identity theft, including newborns and the deceased. These groups are unique in that the people whose information is used illegally are not likely to incur any out-of-pocket expenses. Instead, their information is used by thieves to defraud others, usually businesses, or to hide from law enforcement. Historically, deceased victims have been thought to be the targets of choice for identity thieves, who obtain information about deceased individuals in various ways, including watching obituaries, stealing death certificates, and even getting information from Web sites that offer Social Security Death Index files, though this practice has decreased substantially in the past several years. In addition, some thieves may take advantage of family members. Often the family is unaware of the victimization, and if they do know about it, it may have little effect on their lives.
Child identity theft occurs when an offender uses a child’s identifying information for personal gain. Using data from the Consumer Sentinel Network, Newman and McNally (2005) report that in 2004, there were 9,370 identity theft victims who were under the age of 18 (4% of all cases reported). The Identity Theft Resource Center estimates that they receive reports on 104–156 child victims a year. Similarly, Kresse et al. (2007) report that only 3.5% of victims were under the age of 20.
The perpetrator of child identity theft is typically a family member who has easy access to personal information. According to Pontell, Brown, and Tosouni (2008), over three quarters of those who stole the identities of victims under the age of 18 were the parents. Similarly, the ITRC 2006 survey data indicated that in child identity theft cases, 69% of the offenders were one or both parents or a stepparent. In 54% of these cases, the crime began when the victim was under 5 years of age (ITRC, 2007). However, strangers also target children because of the usually lengthy amount of time between the theft of the information and the discovery of the offense. Evidence suggests that child identity theft is relatively rare, but when it does occur, it takes a considerable amount of time to discover. Typically, the cost to the child whose identity was obtained illegally does not take place until the child applies for a driver’s license, enrolls in college, or applies for a loan or credit.