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Published: Apr 15, 2024 11 min read
Photo-illustration of a robber tight-rope walking away from a fingerprint.
Olive Burd / Money; Getty Images

Having your identity stolen can be bad news for both your finances and your overall well-being. The consequences can include fraudulent credit applications, emptied bank accounts and months spent repairing your reputation — not to mention upsetting your emotional equilibrium.

Identity theft involves scammers stealing personal identifiable information and using (or selling) it. The crimes identity thieves typically commit involve using your name and other personal information to open accounts, apply for loans or seek medical services. This report relies on data to paint a picture of ID theft in the United States, including who’s most often targeted and the ways it can change your life.

Our primary source is an August report from the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), a nonprofit organization established to minimize risk and mitigate the impact of identity compromise. The report included the results of a survey of roughly 1,000 U.S. consumers carried out by Survey Monkey on behalf of ITRC.

This report supplements our coverage of a product that promises to thwart ID theft — identity theft protection services — and one that people may want to use to help establish the impact of an identity theft, as background check sites allow you to see what employers and others might be able to access about you.

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How common is identity theft?

Three in 10 Americans in 2023 reported having had their identity stolen within the past 12 months. Worse, for most of the victims, the theft is not the first time they’ve been targeted. In fact, more than two-thirds of the general public who reported falling victim to ID theft in the ITRC survey said they’d been the victim of a previous theft. (The data below totals more than 100% because some respondents fit into more than one category.)


But there is some good news: The data suggests the incidence of ID theft for much of 2023 fell well short of the pace of 2022, when almost twice as many Americans had their identities stolen, according to ITRC estimates. Such spikes are common, experts say, during and after emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic and natural disasters.

As an example of the pattern, the number of identities stolen for July to September (the third quarter of the year) fell from 110 million in 2022 to about 67 million in 2023.

The data below compares estimates for the first three quarters of each of 2022 and 2023, because only that data was available for 2023.

Being included in a data breach — that’s when any sensitive information is exposed by a cyberattack, say, or phishing incident — doesn’t necessarily mean your identity will be stolen. But a breach does increase those odds.

A majority of consumers received notices of at least one such exposure in the past year, the ITRC survey found. About 3 in 10 people were notified about multiple breaches — with more than 5% of respondents subject to a staggering six or more of them.


The victims of identity theft

Almost anyone can have their identity stolen. Yet some groups of Americans — and not necessarily the ones you might predict — are more susceptible than others.

Overall, older adults are the Americans who are most vulnerable to financial scams, according to the FBI. But statistics suggest they don’t appear to be particularly vulnerable to ID theft.

Identity theft is an equal-opportunity crime; victims span age and income groups in roughly the same proportions as the population as a whole. That said, women are statistically more likely than men to report having their identity stolen. And people in the upper-middle range of income — those making $50,000 to $100,000 a year — are a little more prone to theft than other groups. While they’re about a quarter of the U.S. population, they make up nearly a third of self-reported victims.


People of color don’t appear statistically more vulnerable to identity theft than the population as a whole.

While ITRC’s survey did not report victims by race, 2021 statistics from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics reveal that white Americans comprised 70% of ID theft victims in 2021. That’s a higher proportion than their 60% share of the U.S. population in that year. Black, Asian and Hispanic consumers, by contrast, were less likely to be victims than their share of their population would have dictated.

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The crimes that follow ID theft

If your identity is stolen, the odds are it will be used to dupe the government out of benefits in your name or to fraudulently obtain a credit card. These two types of identity theft fraud account for nearly two-thirds of cases, according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

ID fraud that involves government documents and benefits includes the use of stolen identities to fraudulently claim Social Security or health care (aka Medicare or Medicaid) payments. (There's also child identity theft, which is often carried out by adults in order to wrongly obtain benefits.)

Almost as prevalent is credit card fraud: the use of stolen personal data to stage account takeovers, defined as the unauthorized use of existing cards, or to open new card accounts. Credit card companies have their own programs to thwart such practices, including allowing the use of temporary credit card numbers, but these do not fully stem the tide of stolen sensitive information — some of which is bought and sold by criminals on the dark web.

The remaining third or so of ID fraud cases involve a number of nefarious uses by scammers of stolen data. The most egregious instances that keep law enforcement busy range from criminal identity theft — in which your name and personal information are given to police after an arrest, essentially turning you into the purported criminal — to tax identity theft, in which data like your Social Security number is used to file a fraudulent tax return and obtain a refund in your name.


Identity theft's insidious impact

An overwhelming majority of ID theft victims say the crime triggered financial consequences for them. For most, fixing the damage required weeks or even months of effort. Not just finances were disrupted; most victims also report seeking emotional support in the aftermath of the theft, including asking for comfort from family members and getting professional help.

The financial hit from ID theft can be large, with more than two-thirds of victims reporting a loss of at least $500. One in 10 victims lost at least $10,000.

Unsurprisingly, the loss triggered financial problems for more than three-quarters of the victims and, in most cases, those issues were immediate and serious. More than half of victims reported the theft led to difficulty in covering basic needs.


Some managed to fix the mess that ID theft left behind fairly quickly, in less than a week. But just as many victims overall required between a week and six months to address the fallout — and 1 in 10 reported never resolving all the damage.


Ultimately, stolen funds can be recovered and reputations rehabilitated. But the emotional impact of suffering ID theft is less readily solved.

The crime is clearly personally devastating to some, as reflected in a statistic about the proportion who consider self-harm after suffering ID theft. While the ITRC survey did not report on the number of victims who tried to take their lives, the organization said that 16% of ID theft victims who reached out to them after a theft reported experiencing thoughts of suicide. That’s double the rate ITRC reported for 2020.

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An ID theft summary and solutions

The theft of your identity is a surprisingly — even shockingly — common occurrence that can disrupt victims’ lives in multiple ways. Apart from the financial and personal impact, time is required to remedy compromised accounts and a damaged reputation.

Fortunately, steps taken in advance can minimize your vulnerability to ID theft, and judicious moves after the crime can limit its consequences — and the odds of being a repeat victim. Two types of identity theft fraud account for nearly two thirds of cases: government document/benefit fraud and credit card fraud.

Here are other statistics about identity theft:

  • About 30% of Americans a year report having their identity stolen.
  • Women are notably more likely than men to report having their identity stolen.
  • Middle-income Americans are a little more vulnerable to ID theft than other income groups.
  • An overwhelming majority of ID theft victims say the crime triggered financial consequences for them.
  • A majority also report seeking some kind of emotional support after the theft.


This report is based primarily on the 2023 Consumer Impact Report from the Identity Theft Resource Center, a nonprofit organization that creates and disseminates information about identity theft and educates and advocates. Data cited is based on a survey of 1,048 general consumers carried out in 2022 and reported in 2023. The survey was commissioned by ITRC and used resources from Survey Monkey, an online survey company.

We also employed data from other sources, as noted within the report.

More from Money:

10 Warning Signs of Identity Theft

IRS Identity Theft Issues are Delaying Tax Refunds

How to Check for Identity Theft

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