Santosh Krishnan had been arrested but didn’t know it. He only learned about his “crime” later, when Krishnan’s uncle called him at work.
“He informed me that a sheriff had come to his house to inform him … that I’d been arrested,” Krishnan says. “I was confused, shocked, and I felt insecure.”
Krishnan was a victim of identity theft. A sales clerk, and later the local police, became suspicious of a man using Krishnan’s credit card information and identification to buy a TV. The man was later arrested and presented Krishnan’s credentials to police.
Krishnan reclaimed his identity after sorting out the mess with the police, but he had to freeze his credit reports. That meant no credit cards or loans could be extended in his name unless he arranged with the credit bureaus to temporarily lift the freeze.
Krishnan isn’t the only one whose world has been rocked by identity theft. In 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, the Federal Trade Commission logged 490,220 identity theft complaints, up an astonishing 47% from 2014. The most common type of reported identity theft was fraud related to taxes or wages, which made up 45% of the complaints, followed by fraud involving credit cards (16%), phone or utilities (10%) and bank accounts (6%).
Identity theft complaints by state
To get a fuller picture of the highest concentration of identity theft complaints last year, NerdWallet looked at the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book, released in February. The report identifies the number of identity theft complaints per 100,000 people in each state and Washington, D.C., between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2015.
The map below shows how identity theft rates differ across the U.S. To see the rate of identity theft complaints per 100,000 people, click on the fraud categories and hover over a state — you may need to drag the map left to hover over some states. Or, you can scroll through the list of all 50 states and Washington, D.C.
|Rank||State||Total ID theft||Government Documents or Benefits Fraud||Credit Card Fraud||Phone or Utilities Fraud||Bank Fraud||Loan Fraud||Employment-Related Fraud|
|2||District of Columbia||228.0||105.2||28.1||23.2||17.4||7.7||6.0|
Identity theft complaints by metro area
The FTC also examined every U.S. metro area with 100,000 people or more. Below are the 50 metro areas with the most identity theft complaints.
|Rank||Metropolitan Area||Complaints Per 100,000 people||Total complaints|
|1||St. Louis, MO-IL||684||19,195|
|2||California-Lexington Park, MD||356.9||394|
|3||Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL||300.7||17,832|
|4||Iowa City, IA||256.1||421|
|7||Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, FL||237.4||828|
|8||Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT||235.9||2,865|
|9||Jefferson City, MO||227.4||343|
|13||Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI||216.6||3,405|
|14||Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL||213.5||6,225|
|17||New Haven-Milford, CT||206.2||1,776|
|19||Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX||192.2||13,364|
|20||Ann Arbor, MI||191.4||683|
|21||Port St. Lucie, FL||191.3||850|
|23||North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, FL||188.2||1,409|
|24||Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA||185.6||10,418|
|27||Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX||179.5||11,652|
|28||Punta Gorda, FL||179.3||302|
|29||Homosassa Springs, FL||177.9||248|
|31||Sebastian-Vero Beach, FL||174.8||253|
|32||Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL||174.1||1,183|
|33||San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA||173.4||7,968|
|36||Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, FL||167.9||935|
|37||The Villages, FL||167.9||192|
|44||Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL||161.8||1,027|
|46||Kansas City, MO-KS||161.7||3,348|
|48||Norwich-New London, CT||158.9||435|
|49||Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach, FL||156.1||952|
Massive data breaches inflate rates in certain regions: Some 780 large-scale data breaches were reported in 2015, which resulted in the compromise of nearly 180 million records, according to a report from the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center. A breach at health insurer Anthem in early 2015, for example, exposed about 80 million records, including Social Security numbers, addresses, birth dates and other personal information.
Just one large data breach can skew the ID fraud rate for an individual metro area. The Anthem breach may have accounted for the higher rate of fraud complaints in Connecticut, for example, where it’s the largest insurer in the state. Officials at Ball State University, in Muncie, Indiana, No. 6 on the metro identity theft list, reportedly suspect that the Anthem breach contributed to a rash of identity theft complaints among its employees.
A spokesperson at Anthem, one of hundreds of businesses targeted by hackers last year, said in an emailed statement that the damage from this incident was contained. “In working with the FBI, we have found no evidence that the cyber attackers who attacked Anthem last year have shared or sold any of our members’ data, and there is no evidence that fraud has occurred against our members, including fraudulent tax returns, resulting from the attack.”
Consumer empowerment to report identity theft varies. These FTC figures reflect the number of identity-theft complaints reported, not how many incidents of the crime actually occurred. Some metro areas may make the list above in part because their residents feel more empowered to report identity theft than in others. For example, the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office in Maryland, which serves the California-Lexington Park metro area, offers identity-theft victims a thorough checklist that includes instructions for filing a complaint with the FTC. Local consumer advocacy groups and news coverage of high-profile data breaches may also alert residents about identity theft and how to report it.
How to prevent identity theft
Identity theft can inflict a range of damages. With your personal information, thieves can claim a tax refund in your name, open new utility accounts and or even use your health insurance. They can drain your bank account and leave you with bad credit, forcing you to rebuild your credit for years. Here’s how to prevent the nightmare of identity theft:
Protect your personal information. Educate yourself on how to keep your personal information secure. This FTC resource gives guidance for protecting yourself offline and online.
Look for the warning signs of identity theft. Scan your bank account and credit card statements for unfamiliar withdrawals and charges, which can be a sign of credit card fraud. Check for unfamiliar accounts on your credit report at least once a year. Other signs of identity theft include missing bills and other mail, collectors calling about debts you don’t owe, bills for medical services you never used, and notification from the IRS that more than one tax return was filed in your name.
Another sign you’re at risk of identity theft: Notification that your information was compromised in a data breach. After such a notification, “it becomes about detection and vigilance,” says Eva Velasquez, CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center. “Now it’s about understanding what type of information has been compromised, how it can be used to commit identity theft and where you need to start looking to detect an actual misuse.”
Act fast if you suspect a breach. Log on to IdentityTheft.gov. This FTC tool asks questions about your situation and uses your answers to create a personal recovery plan. If you create an account, the site walks you through each step, providing prefilled forms, including a sample letter to a debt collector to inquire about debts racked up by a thief, and linking to IRS forms for tax identity theft.
Sreekar Jasthi is a data analyst at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: [email protected]. Laura McMullen is a staff writer at NerdWallet. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @lauraemcmullen.