The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released its annual summary of consumer complaints in March this year. Of the top 10 countries with reported fraud complaints, the United States ranked first with 1,153,832 total. Canada placed second but with only 9,426, so the runner up accounts for only one percent of complaints reported by the top 10 countries. The U.S. makes up 97 percent of the total fraud complaints. Obviously, fraud is a serious issue here in the States.
The number of reported complaints varies greatly by state, particularly in the category of identity theft. Michigan and Florida landed positions one and two, respectively, on the list based on the number of complaints per 100,000 residents, significantly outscoring the 48 other states. This begs the question, what is going on in Florida and Michigan? What factors contribute to so many identity theft reports and how can consumers best protect themselves?
Naturally, the more people within a given area, the greater the chance of identity theft and complaint reports. In addition to the identity theft list, Florida and Michigan are also listed on the top 10 most populous states list, which more than likely is not a coincidence. This evidence suggests that the spike in identity theft may have less to do with geography and more to do with population.
Ages of Residents
People of all age groups experience identity theft, though some believe that the very young and very old are targeted more often. Children could be targeted due to the easy accessibility of their information, like social security numbers, which are stored in the school system. Stealing a kid’s identity is also appealing to thieves because a child’s credit report is not monitored and years could pass before any theft is detected.
Americans in their golden years are also vulnerable to identity theft. The elderly are sometimes targeted due to their contact with medical facilities, specialists and caretakers. These individuals are also likely to have Medicaid or Medicare — quality health insurance plans.
Targeting the young and the old could be factored into explaining Michigan’s number one slot in identity theft considering that the most dominant age groups in that state are persons under the age of 18 (22 percent) and persons 65 years of age and older (16 percent). Florida, however, does not mirror these demographics. More than 40 percent of the state’s residents are between the ages of 25 and 54.
Social and Economic Pressures
In Michigan, local experts claim that many of the identity theft perpetrators are coworkers with access to sensitive information in the workplace, or they are family members capable of easily gaining access to personal information. Some speculate that within the social and family climate in Michigan, many victims may hesitate to report relatives.
Other variables like job loss, the rates of drug addiction and the health of the local economy can spur increases in identity theft. In Michigan, though the state’s economy improved in 2016, its cities are still struggling, and an unstable economy can lead to desperation. Florida, on the other hand, experienced impressive economic growth in 2016 and is slated to surpass the nation’s average in the next couple years, so there is no clear correlation between economy and identity theft in the Sunshine State.
Protective Measures Against Identity Theft
Even those not living in Michigan or Florida should take preemptive action to defend themselves against identity thieves. Steps to take to avoid being targeted include:
- Not listing birthdays on Facebook or other social media sites (birthday digits are often used as passwords or to confirm identity over the phone or online)
- Investing in credit monitoring and protection
- Not giving out personal information over the phone in public
- Not carrying social security cards on one’s person
- Shredding all unnecessary documents and investing in a safe for important paperwork
There are no definitive reasons for Michigan’s and Florida’s climb to the crest of identity theft reports, but in examining the population and age groups, as well as social and economic factors in each state, there are definitive actions to take in order to not fall victim.