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February 06, 2014

Count to Two: Someone Just Got Hit with Identity Theft.

Identity theft is a worldwide problem; just ask anyone who found him- or herself on the business end of the recent hackings at Target or Neiman Marcus. But a recent study from Javelin Strategy & Research shows just how pronounced this problem actually is, having taken its most recent look at the issue of identity theft and discovering that there's a lot more going on than anyone may have expected, with reports suggesting a new victim emerging every two seconds.

The study in question—the 2014 Identity Fraud Study--showed that, just between 2012 and 2013, the number of total fraud victims rose over 500,000 individuals strong, reaching a total of 13.1 million people in 2013. That's the second highest number seen since the study was started 11 years ago. What's more, account takeover fraud was also on the rise, hitting a new record for the second year running. Account takeover fraud represented fully 28 percent of all identity theft cases, with said thieves heading for Amazon, eBay and PayPal in increasing numbers to make purchases with stolen information. The issue of data breaches also brought more damage, as one in three people who received notice about a data breach later became a victim of identity theft.

Yet despite the fact that identity theft was on the rise in nearly every category, what was particularly unusual is that the amount stolen was greatly on the decline. The total amount stolen was $18 billion, which doesn't sound encouraging at all until it's considered that that's down $3 billion from last year. That's showing that, even when theft happens, it's attacked aggressively on every level: not just from banks and other institutions, but also from identity theft protection services and even consumers.

That's a good sign, overall. Criminals are working harder and doing more, but getting progressively less from the effort, showing that increased vigilance is providing plenty of added value. Indeed, the Javelin Strategy & Research offered a set of tips around three critical areas: prevention, detection, and resolution.  Specifically, consumers can protect against identity theft by keeping personal data private—as private as possible, anyway—and doing things like performing regular password changes to help stymie identity thieves. Turning to two-factor authentication methods can also be a help, and not using the social security number as an authentication tool will likewise prove helpful. For detection, keeping track of accounts will be a big help—some advise doing so on a weekly basis—and turning to third-party services can be a help. When there are data breaches, part of resolution, take the notices seriously, and if ever a problem is noticed, report it immediately to the relevant bank and / or authorities.

Naturally, some will note here that even the most vigilant of consumers wouldn't have been protected in the Target or Neiman Marcus hackings, and that note isn't without truth. But by like token, Target's CFO, John Mulligan, noted that not only is Target bulking up its credit card offerings to offer better security, it's also calling for the rest of the industry to do likewise. While consumers are a big part of fighting identity theft—the tip of the spear, really—there's got to be more to the equation, because consumers alone just aren't a fighting force sufficient to take on dedicated thieves. But with the entire force of the retail industry involved, identity theft may well be in the run indeed, and the numbers are already starting to show a bit of a buckling for the thieves.


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