Hitting Close to Home: The States Where Identity Theft is Worst
While identity theft is a big problem across our country, with criminals stealing identities from both children and adults, the issue is more severe in some states than others. Florida has the most significant level of identity theft complaints, with nearly twice the per capita rate of the next highest state (Georgia), according to data from the Federal Trade Commission's 2012 Consumer Sentinel Network report. Florida's high rate of identity theft complaints could be a result of its transient population, large number of tourists and high percentage of elderly people — all groups that are particularly vulnerable targets, according to fraud experts at Equifax. Also, states and metro areas that have had surges in unemployment and/or foreclosures may be at risk for more identity theft, as people who feel desperate may be more likely to participate in identity theft scams to get quick cash.
Florida ranks No. 1 for identity theft among the 50 states, with 361.3 complaints per 100,000 people, according to the FTC's 2012 Consumer Sentinel Network report. That's 86 percent more than Georgia, which ranks a distant second. Also, nine of the top 10 metro areas for identity theft are in Florida, according to the report. First is the Miami area with 645.4 complaints per 100,000 people.
Florida's high percentage of elderly people, who can be more vulnerable to fraud, may be part of the reason.
Two high-profile Florida identity theft cases:
- In 2010, a mail carrier in Florida was gunned down by members of an identity theft ring who stole his master key as part of a scheme to claim people's tax refunds.
- In December 2012, a former U.S. Marine from Miami was sentenced to nearly five years in prison for stealing the identities of 40 fellow Marines in Afghanistan.
Georgia ranks No. 2 on the FTC Consumer Sentinel report's list of states with the highest per capita rates of identity theft. Metro Atlanta came in at No. 8 among metro areas — with 246.6 complaints per 100,000 people — and was the only non-Florida metro area to make the top ten list.
- In February 2013, two owners of Atlanta-area tax preparation companies were indicted for fraud and receiving nearly $15 million in bogus income tax returns.
- In early 2013, a man from Lilburn, Ga., was sentenced to federal prison for his involvement in a credit card theft ring that used skimming devices to copy and store debit and credit card account information from restaurants and retailers across the metro Atlanta area.
California came in No. 3 on the FTC Consumer Sentinel report's list of states with the highest per capita rates of identity theft (122.7 per 100,000 people) and No. 2 for total number of complaints (46,658).
The California Public Interest Research Group issued an important report in 2012 showing that while the number of identity theft victims had actually declined, the average victim is losing more money. The report said in 2010 California victims lost $82 per person. In 2011, they lost about $786 per person. The reason: An increase in new account fraud, in which criminals use a victim's personal information and good credit to create new accounts and make purchases, rather than hacking into existing accounts.
In one high-profile 2012 California case, two men associated with the Armenian Power gang were found guilty of orchestrating a sophisticated identity theft ring from prison. The theft scheme looted at least $8 million.
The Armenian Power gang worked in concert with other street gangs, bribing bank insiders to steal personal information from mostly elderly victims whose signatures were forged. Checks were deposited into phony accounts.
Michigan came in right behind California for the states with the highest per capita rate of identity theft, with 122.2 complaints per 100,000 people, according to the FTC Consumer Sentinel report.
Earlier this year, the leader of a multi-state identity theft ring was sentenced to more than nine years in federal prison by a U.S. District Judge in Grand Rapids, Mich. The ring started in Florida and spread to other states including Michigan.
West Michigan realtors have also seen a rise in housing scams, in which fake landlords create fake rental agreements to get access to sensitive information for identity theft, according to MLive.com.
New York ranks fifth on the Consumer Sentinel report's list of states with the highest per capita rate of identity theft. It had 21,538 complaints in 2012, or 110.1 complaints per 100,000 people.
In 2012, the New York City Council provided $4.2 million for a cybercrime lab to target crimes involving the use of technology, including identity theft.
In late 2011, more than 100 people were indicted for their part in a New York identity theft ring. The bank workers, retail employees and restaurant workers used the process known as skimming to steal credit card numbers. Those numbers were given to manufacturing teams who would create false credit cards and realistic identifications. The ring stole more than $13 million.
Nevada is sixth among states with the highest rate of identity theft, with 109.9 complaints per 100,000 people in 2012.
A recent report from the Internet Crime Complaint Center showed Nevadans lost millions of dollars to cyber crime in 2011, and a good bit of that involved identity theft.
Texas took the No. 7 spot for states with the highest per capita rate of identity theft in 2012. The FTC Consumer Sentinel report said Texas had the third-highest number of complaints (28,299) among the states, at a rate of 108.6 per 100,000 people.
- In March 2013, a raid of four residences around the Houston area turned up nine arrests all tied to identity theft and credit card fraud. Police confiscated hundreds of blank cards to be used for identifications, embossing machines, re-encoding devices used to encode fraudulent information and machines used for place foil coating on card numbers.
- Last year, two families near McCallum, Texas, appeared to have teamed up and specialized in identity theft, submitting more than 140 fraudulent credit card applications.
Arizona ranked eighth among states with the highest per capita rate of identity theft, with 107.3 identity theft complaints per 100,000 people, according to the FTC Consumer Sentinel report.
Its proximity to the Mexican border can make Arizona susceptible to identity theft, as undocumented immigrants may buy identities in order to apply for jobs, according to an identity theft expert, Mark Pribish, who was quoted in The Arizona Republic in April 2013. Arizona also has high populations of both seniors and students, which are high-risk categories for identity theft.
In February 2013, the Chandler, Ariz., financial crimes unit detective Jason Schouten was quoted in The Arizona Republic saying arrests for identity theft are 'constant.' The city had already seen 37 cases involving identity theft in 2013.
In early 2013, grocery stores including Food City, Bashas', AJ's Fine Foods and Sprouts Farmers Market fell victim to malware attacks in which information was compromised.
Maryland is the No. 9 state with the highest per capita rate of identity theft, according to the FTC Consumer Sentinel's report. The state had 105 complaints per 100,000 people in 2012.
Recently, a Baltimore County man was sentenced to prison for 11 years for victimizing more than 250 people, including Johns Hopkins doctors. Along with his co-conspirator, he stole identities, cashed counterfeit checks and rented apartments in the names of victims.
Alabama ranked tenth in the FTC Consumer Sentinel's list of the states with the highest per capita rates of identity theft. Alabama had 104.9 identity theft complaints per 100,000 people in 2012.
The Montgomery, Ala., area ranked 16th among the largest metropolitan areas in the country for its rate of per capita identity theft complaints.
An especially sad story from Alabama: An Air National Guard member living in Alabama was working for a defense contracting company when his identity was stolen. His credit report became so damaged that he lost his security clearance at his job and was blocked from active duty with the Air National Guard while his security clearance is suspended. As of February 2013, he was working a minimum wage job at a Krystal restaurant, according to the Associated Press.
Sources: Federal Trade Commission, Associated Press, Reuters, NBC News, New York Daily News, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, California Public Interest Group, Los Angeles Times, MLive Media Group, CBS Las Vegas, Arizona Republic, CBS Baltimore, Lilburn Patch