America's Fastest-Growing Crime Problem Barely Even Registers as 'Crime' for Most People

We seldom treat identity theft the way we do other crimes. 

Image
SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

When we talk about crime at the city level, we tend to focus on violent crime and property crime. These two categories don't encompass the entire universe of illegal behavior, but they cover crimes that a) have victims, and b) local police can actually  investigate. Property and violent crime affect us where we live and work, and we expect local government to do something about them.

But even though these categories seem comprehensive, neither one includes identity theft. Considering identity theft now costs Americans nearly twice as much as property crime, that's an odd omission. In a recent report, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics found that total losses attributed to identity theft in 2012 were $24.6 billion, compared to $13.9 billion for property crimes. Not only is the total loss amount higher for identity theft, the mean and median loss per incident is roughly double (see the chart at right). 

This isn't to say we don't talk enough about identity crime, because we actually talk about it a lot (mostly as it relates to personal finance and online security). But the BJS report suggests even identity theft victims don't actually think about identity theft when they think about crime where they live. The biggest indicator? Only 9 percent of identity theft victims even contact the police.

Because financial institutions are capable of and willing to resolve many identity fraud cases, victims don't see as much need to involve police. And yet the above table shows that 15 percent of victims didn't know they could report their problem to their local police departments, and 20 percent didn't think the police could do anything to help them (those numbers are even higher for people who are the victims of personal information fraud). Though it may sound insensitive, this isn't necessarily a problem for many victims. Less than 5 percent of identity theft victims experience long-term problems related to what happened to them (the bulk of those related to their credit scores and debt collection), while roughly 80 percent said they were able to resolve issues associated with identity theft in less than a month. 

And yet, couldn't you say the same about property crime? Let's say someone broke a window in your car or house—fixing it without bothering to report it would no doubt be faster and easier than working with credit rating agencies to clear your name after a successful fraud attempt. Letting local law enforcement know you've been the victim of a crime could, however, make you feel safer and more secure in your physical surroundings, which is, in an ideal world, what local law enforcement policy boils down to.

Top image: shutterstock.com/Andrey Armyagov

About the Author