The Staggering Cost of Identity Fraud and Protecting Yourself

As someone who spent decades with the FBI investigating cybercrime and identity fraud, the latest statistics on this insidious issue are staggering, but unfortunately not surprising. A recent AARP report has shed light on the immense financial toll identity fraud is taking on Americans.

According to the report titled “Resolving the Shattered Identity Crisis,” American adults lost a combined $43 billion to identity fraud in 2023 alone. This includes a staggering $23 billion lost to traditional identity fraud affecting around 15 million victims, as well as over $20 billion lost to various fraud scams orchestrated by criminals.

The increased losses per victim suggest that cybercriminals are becoming bolder and more ambitious, aiming for larger illegal payouts once they gain unauthorized access to personal accounts and information. And these reported losses are likely just the tip of the iceberg, as identity fraud crimes are notoriously underreported due to feelings of shame or embarrassment among victims.

As Suzanne Sando, the report’s author, rightly points out, we need to provide better support systems so victims feel safe coming forward without stigma or judgment. There should be no shame in being targeted by these unscrupulous criminals exploiting our digital lives.

The various methods used by fraudsters to steal identities and perpetrate scams are concerning. From large-scale data breaches exposing sensitive consumer data, to phishing scams and social media manipulation tactics aimed at tricking people into revealing personal information – the criminal element is increasingly sophisticated and relentless.

What’s particularly disturbing is the emotional toll on victims. The Identity Theft Resource Center has reported a dramatic rise in the percentage of fraud victims contemplating suicide due to the devastating impact of these crimes. As a law enforcement veteran, I’ve seen firsthand how identity theft can shatter lives and financial security.

So what can you do to protect yourself in this increasingly treacherous digital landscape? While you can’t always prevent company data breaches that expose your information, there are key steps to make that stolen data less useful to criminals:

  1. Be very selective about sharing personal information and question why it’s needed.
  2. Freeze your credit to restrict access to your credit history and make new account fraud harder.
  3. Use unique passwords for every account and consider a password manager.
  4. Enable multi-factor authentication for financial accounts instead of relying solely on passwords.

While taking these precautions can reduce your risk, anyone can still fall victim despite their best efforts. That’s why it’s crucial to have support resources available for those impacted by identity fraud crimes. Organizations like AARP’s Fraud Watch Network and the Resilience, Strength and Time (ReST) program provide guidance, emotional support, and a community for victims working to restore their identities and financial lives.

Identity fraud is a vicious, evolving threat – but raising awareness, implementing smart security practices, and nurturing support networks can empower us to fight back against these criminal enterprises. Stay vigilant, and remember there’s no shame in being targeted – the shame lies with the perpetrators violating our privacy for illicit gain.

Source: AARP