You’ve probably heard a lot about identity theft over the past year, and with good reason. In the UK, the Cifas fraud prevention service announced that 2017 was the worst year ever for identity theft statistics, with 175,000 reported cases. Identity theft was also reported as the fastest growing criminal threat in the USA. According to NBC, around 17 million Americans fell victim last year, losing $16.8 billion in the process.

From store, social security and credit cards to unsecured wi-fi browsing, criminals have many ways to steal your details. And they put them to good use, creating “synthetic” individuals from a few pieces of data, and piling up debt in that person’s name. It’s definitely a good time to drill down into the data in more detail to find out more, so here are our key identity theft facts and statistics for 2018.

Child identity theft is a massive problem

One of the most surprising things we’ve learned from the identity theft 2018 statistics is how criminals have started to target the identities of children more and more frequently. A major study by the research agency Javelin Strategy & Research found that over 1 million minors had fallen victim to the crime over the past year, and 66% of those were aged under 7.

These shocking identity theft examples reflect the trend towards creating synthetic identities, where criminals can take a minor’s identity and load them up with credit card debt. This is leading to the social security numbers of many children being tainted by debt without them knowing it – causing major issues as they enter adult life. And it’s an important reminder that nobody is safe from identity theft, especially young people when they use smartphones or computers.

The majority of identity theft examples occur in middle aged adults

Alarming identity theft

Despite the rising number of cases involving minors, the vast majority of identity fraud examples documented in 2017-2018 affected adults, and in particular those aged 31-59. In other words, adults who should be technologically aware and most able to take steps to keep their information safe.

Identity theft statistics released by the FTC in 2018 found that between 2014 and 2016, the rate reported by those aged 31-59 actually rose from 57% of cases to 61%.

Superficially, this seems to suggest that people who should know better are falling victim to identity theft more, even though public awareness is increasing.

Data breaches are a huge identity theft issue

According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, 2017 was a banner year for mass data breaches, with 1,579 major incidents across the USA, representing a 44% increase in total breaches and a massive 389% increase in the number of individual records released.

One of the most well known recent examples involved the credit company Equifax, which leaked 143 million SSNs and details about customers’ credit histories. It’s not alone. From the loss of 5 million records at Saks to Under Armour’s embarrassment when their MyFitnessPal app was found to be leaking data, the cases continue to mount.

In 2018, these breaches from major companies exposed over 14 million credit card details and an incredible 158 million SSNs. Obviously not all of that information then translated into actual identity theft crimes, but there is a correlation.

As the ITRC reports, when people are notified of a data breach, around 32% subsequently report some form of identity theft, compared with just 3% of those not informed.

Credit card fraud is increasing, fast

Credit card fraud is increasing

Between 2016 and 2017, criminals either became much more active in targeting credit card details, or we became much less vigilant. In any case, the past couple of years have seen an alarming spike in the reported incidence of credit card related identity theft.

According to the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network, credit card fraud increased by 21.6% in 2017 compared to 2016, rising to almost $1bn from US consumers alone. That’s based on documented consumer complaints, by the way, so it’s almost certainly a radical underestimate.

Identity theft statistics worldwide show that it’s a global problem

It’s no surprise that cybercriminals are stealing personal details across the world. Wherever there are internet connections, unsecured wi-fi, naive email account users and companies who don’t know how to safeguard data, these attacks are taking place. So that’s everywhere.

However, there’s no doubting that America is the global capital of identity theft. According to the analysts at Panda Security, 791 million US identities were stolen in 2016 – meaning that many people had their identities stolen multiple times.

France comes second, with 85 million thefts, which is still higher than the country’s population, but well below America’s globe-leading frequency.

Developing countries have some of the fastest rises in identity theft

Even though the USA can’t be rivaled, there are some other fascinating aspects of identity theft facts and statistics from across the globe. Perhaps the most striking development is the rise of ID theft in places like Brazil, Vietnam and India. Tech sectors have arisen quickly in these nations, without law enforcement and infrastructure necessarily following.

This has allowed some nations to become hubs for cyber-criminals, providing the perfect launch pad for bot attacks against corporations anywhere in the world. It’s an amazing situation, really. When 2 billion people lack access  to banking, their neighbors could be harvesting millions of records from an insurer in Idaho.

How to prevent identity theft in the face of a growing global problem

The identity theft 2018 statistics and examples of mass data breaches show that this type of fraud is increasing, and becoming more sophisticated. And it’s hardly being dealt with by law enforcement. There are few statistics about arrests for online identity theft, probably because these thieves are so rarely caught.

Because of this, it’s more vital than ever to learn how to prevent identity theft. That way, you can avoid becoming a statistic in future years.

Some basic steps can help, such as keeping your social security card at home, being very, very cautious about giving private information to strangers, double checking all bills for suspicious activity and shredding documents. A good primer from the government can be found here.

But it’s also important to take steps to secure your internet account. Malware, phishing, and session hijacking can all contribute to identity theft, which makes it advisable to install a reliable Virtual Private Network and to use strong passwords that are regularly changed.

No-one is immune, as the identity theft statistics worldwide show. But we can turn the tide, that’s for sure.