An estimated 3.6 million US households — around three per cent — fell victim to at least one type of identity theft during a six-month period in 2004, according to a report by the US Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics.
The report, which is based on interviews with 40,000 household residents, found that from July through December 2004 almost half (48%) of households reporting ID theft had experienced unauthorised use of credit cards, while a quarter (25%) had other accounts, such as bank accounts, used without permission.
Of those who fell victim, around 15% experienced the misuse of personal data and 12% experienced multiple types of theft at the same time.
Around two-thirds of the households said they lost money during the period due to ID theft, with the average loss at $1290. The total estimated loss during the six month period was about $3.2 billion. This included losses that may have been reimbursed by credit card companies, insurance companies or other financial institutions.
About one third of households that fell victim to ID theft discovered the loss by noticing missing money or unfamiliar charges on an account, and around a quarter were contacted by a credit bureau.
A third of the victimised households also experienced problems caused by identity theft, the most common being contacted by a debt collector (34%), problems with bank accounts (31%) and credit cards (26%).
Research released in November 2005 by Texas-based e-security firm Entrust found that the fear of identity theft is scaring US consumers away from using online banking services, while an earlier study released by RSA Security founds that the ID theft fears are forcing many consumers to cut the amount they spend on online purchases.