Special Report

9 States With the Most Identity Theft Complaints

ThinkstockPhotos-450634135In 2014, data theft reached record levels. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, there were 783 data breaches last year, a substantial increase from both the previous year and the previous 2010 peak. In addition, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recorded 332,646 identity theft complaints in 2014, up slightly from 2013. All forms of fraud, including identity theft, cost Americans about $1.7 billion in 2014, or an average of more than $2,000 per incident.

The Consumer Sentinel Network (CSN) received nearly 2.6 million consumer complaints in 2014, 13% of which were identity theft complaints, the largest complaint category. Scams involving government documents such as fraudulent tax filings were the most common method of identity theft. Florida reported 37,059 identity theft complaints, or 186.3 per 100,000 people, each the largest figures by far of any state. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the nine states with the most identity theft complaints per 100,000 people.

Click here to see the nine states with the most identity theft complaints. 

While identity theft complaints are far more common in these nine states than in others, there are no safe states for identity theft. Steven Toporoff, attorney in the Division of Privacy and Identity Protection at the FTC, said, “everyone is vulnerable.” If a major retail chain’s system is hacked, he added, information about millions of consumers in different states is compromised. “Any time consumers give out their information it creates vulnerability,” said Toporoff.

According to Toporoff, the motive behind identity theft is very simple. “There’s a lot of money in [identity theft] with very little physical risk,” said Toporoff. And there are many methods. In most cases, Toporoff explained, only a computer is needed to steal someone’s identity. While often such thieves operate in gangs or on a large scale, sometimes “insiders” sell information. These individuals often work for educational, financial, or medical institutions, which store personal information. Selling confidential information can be very lucrative.

While everyone is vulnerable to identity theft, children and elderly people are targeted more than others, although for different reasons. According to Toporoff, children are prime targets because their information is readily available as it is stored within a school system. In addition, almost no one monitors a child’s credit report. This means a child’s stolen identity can often be used for years before the misuse is even detected.

Elderly Americans are vulnerable to identity theft for a host of reasons. They are targeted because often they have more money than younger Americans. They also tend to have more contact with medical establishments, with multiple specialists, and with multiple people such as caretakers entering their homes more often. This may partly explain the nation-leading rate of identity thefts in Florida, where nearly 19% of the population was 65 and over in 2013, the highest proportion in the country.

Toporoff suggested that the large populations in the states with the most identity theft is also a factor. Florida, California, Georgia, and Michigan, for example, are all among the 10 most populous states in the nation, as well as top states for identity theft. “People want to live [in these states] and so do thieves,” who go to “places where there are people, so they can apply their trade, so to speak.” Toporoff noted.

The causes behind a state’s high incidence of identity theft are difficult to pin down. Toporoff pointed out that a higher incidence of these crimes could be due simply to better reporting methods or to greater attention paid in the media, which encourages people to file complaints. Still, generally speaking, for “people facing hard times, if they’re inclined to engage in criminal activity, [identity theft] is a relatively easy one to get involved in.” Similarly, a person suffering financial distress is perhaps more vulnerable to scams than many others.

The unemployment rates in seven of the nine states with the most identity theft exceeded the 2014 annual national rate of 6.3%. Also, while 15.9% of Americans lived in poverty in 2013, more than 17% of residents in six of these states lived in poverty. Average debt levels also tended to be higher in these states. For example, the average mortgage debts in six of the nine states were among the top 20 figures compared to the rest of the nation.

To identify the nine states with the highest incidence of identity theft, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data for the 2013 and 2014 calendar years from the FTC’s Sentinel Network Data Book, which compiles the total number of fraud complaints in each state. These complaints are divided between identity theft and a second category, which includes all other kinds of fraud. We also reviewed data on consumers’ average auto, credit card, mortgage, and student loan debt, provided by Credit Karma for January 2014. Figures on income are from the U.S. Census Bureau for 2013. Unemployment figures represent annual averages for 2014 and are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

These are the states with the most identity theft victims.

9. Arizona
> Identity theft complaints per 100,000:
> Total complaints per 100,000 population: 562.1 (16th highest)
> Total complaints: 37,836 (14th highest)
> Average amount paid: $2,581 (9th highest)

There were 6,460 complaints of identity theft, or 96 per 100,000 residents, in Arizona last year, the ninth highest frequency nationwide. There are a variety of ways to steal a person’s identity. In Arizona, government documents or benefits fraud accounted for the most identity theft complaints, 31%. All forms of fraud, including identity theft, were also quite costly for Arizona. Among complaints in which an amount paid was reported, scams cost an average of $2,581, the ninth-largest such figure nationwide. In 2008, the state passed a law which classified seeking employment without legitimate documentation as identity theft, helping local authorities crack down on illegal immigration. However, the law may conflict with federal statutes which affirm no attempt to seek employment is illegal regardless of immigration status. The law came under attack in January after an organization of immigrant advocate groups sued Arizona and several counties in the state.

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8. Nevada
> Identity theft complaints per 100,000:
> Total complaints per 100,000 population: 773.2 (3rd highest)
> Total complaints: 21,952 (25th lowest)
> Average amount paid: $4,296 (the highest)

Nevadans were among the most likely identity theft victims, with more than one identity theft complaint for every 1,000 people in the state — the eighth-highest rate in the country. Other sorts of fraud were also very common, with 773.2 fraud and other complaints reported per 100,000 people, the third-highest proportion nationwide. And these scams were expensive, costing Nevada fraud victims $4,296 last year, the largest such figure among all states. A low college attainment rate and relatively high debt levels may have made many residents more vulnerable to identity theft and other types of fraud. About 22.5% of Nevada adults had at least a bachelor’s degree, nearly the lowest rate nationwide. Also, the average Nevadan had about $18,462 in auto debt and $182,488 in mortgage debt, both among the highest levels in the country. In addition to frequent fraud-related criminal activity, Nevada also reported 591 violent crimes per 100,000 state residents, the third-highest rate nationwide.

7. California
> Identity theft complaints per 100,000:
> Total complaints per 100,000 population: 644.6 (8th highest)
> Total complaints: 250,138 (the highest)
> Average amount paid: $2,890 (4th highest)

There were 171,379 total fraud complaints in California, 38,982 of them were for identity theft — both numbers were the highest among all states. Government documents and benefits fraud, together with credit card scams, accounted for about half of California’s identity theft complaints. The state had nearly 500,000 social security recipients in 2013, the highest number in the country, which could partly account for the prevalence of fraudulent government documents. Residents also had a relatively high average credit card debt, at about $4,870, as of the beginning of 2014, and the second-highest average mortgage debt in the country, $288,990. Fraud was also costly to state residents, with 80,000 incidents reporting payments averaging $2,890 — the fourth-largest amount in the country.

6. Michigan
> Identity theft complaints per 100,000:
> Total complaints per 100,000 population: 749.2 (5th highest)
> Total complaints: 74,244 (6th highest)
> Average amount paid: $1,418 (5th lowest)

Unlike many other states with high levels of identity theft, Michigan residents had relatively low debt levels. The average auto loan debt among residents was $13,858, the lowest in the nation. Also, Michigan residents had mortgage debt averaging $115,967, one of the lower levels nationwide. Michigan fraud victims also reported nearly the lowest payout, averaging $1,418. While debt levels were relatively low, the state was hit hard by the financial crisis, and many residents are likely still vulnerable to scam artists as a result. There were 4,362 government documents or benefits fraud complaints, and 2,301 phone or utilities scam reports, which together made up a majority of the 10,338 total identity theft complaints in the state.

5. Georgia
> Identity theft complaints per 100,000:
> Total complaints per 100,000 population: 777.7 (2nd highest)
> Total complaints: 78,526 (5th highest)
> Average amount paid: $1,750 (16th lowest)

As with most of the states on this list, Georgia’s 2014 annual unemployment rate was relatively high, at 8.2%. The state also had high poverty levels, 19.2%. Both these factors contributed to financial distress among residents, many of whom may have become targets of fraud as a result. As in most states, Government documents and benefits fraud accounted for the largest share — 41% — of the state’s identity theft complaints. According to recent news reports, incidents of identity theft are on the rise in Georgia. Several local jurisdictions are “overwhelmed with identity theft cases.” Most of these crimes involve filing false tax returns with stolen social security numbers.

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4. Missouri
> Identity theft complaints per 100,000:
> Total complaints per 100,000 population: 516.3 (21st highest)
> Total complaints: 31,304 (19th highest)
> Average amount paid: $1,587 (13th lowest)

The number of identity theft complaints per 100,000 Missouri residents jumped from 67 in 2013 to 118.7 in 2014, propelling Missouri from 25th to fourth place on this list. Government documents and benefits fraud represented the majority of identity theft complaints, 62%, the highest rate in the nation. Missouri was one of only nine states in which government documents and benefits accounted for more than 50% of identity theft complaints. Credit card fraud was a distant second, accounting for only 10% of identity theft complaints in Missouri, compared with 17% nationally. Contributing to Missouri’s high ranking, the St. Louis metropolitan statistical area had the third-highest rate of identity theft of all MSAs in the country.

3. Oregon
> Identity theft complaints per 100,000:
> Total complaints per 100,000 population: 505.5 (22nd lowest)
> Total complaints: 20,069 (24th lowest)
> Average amount paid: $1,830 (23rd lowest)

More than 60% of identity theft complaints in Oregon in 2014 involved government documents or benefits, compared to 39% nationally. Almost a quarter of all fraud complaints in the state involved identity theft, compared to 13% across the country. The number of identity thefts in Oregon more than doubled from 2013 to 2014. Total fraud complaints also rose, though not as sharply. One explanation for the increase in identity theft complaints could be better reporting by Oregonians. In October 2014, the Oregon Employment Department reported a data breach which may have affected as many as 851,322 people. While there was no evidence the information was misused, the alert may have led to an increase in complaints. Oregon’s high ranking for fraud comes against the backdrop of a relatively low violent crime rate, 243 per 100,000, the 11th lowest in the country.

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2. Washington
> Identity theft complaints per 100,000:
> Total complaints per 100,000 population: 511.6 (23rd highest)
> Total complaints: 36,127 (17th highest)
> Average amount paid: $2,704 (7th highest)

Slightly more than 30% of all fraud complaints in Washington involved identity theft, the highest percentage of any state. Nationally, identity theft represented 13% of all fraud complaints. Indeed, identity theft grew dramatically in Washington, more than doubling from 2013 to 2014. There were 511.6 total fraud complaints per 100,000 Washington residents in 2014, with victims reporting losses of $2,704 per person, the seventh-highest figure in the country. The median household income in Washington was $58,405, about $6,200 more than the national median. High incomes help explain why fraud nets more in the state than in most other states. Washington residents had an average credit card debt of $5,078, 12th highest in the nation. About 11% of total identity theft complaints involved credit card fraud. In August 2014, Albertsons stores in Washington state acknowledged a credit card breach affecting customers who shopped in the company’s stores in Washington, Montana and Idaho between the end of June and mid-July. According to Toporoff, publicized data breaches often result in an increase in complaints of identity theft.

1. Florida
> Identity theft complaints per 100,000:
> Total complaints per 100,000 population: 1007.3 (the highest)
> Total complaints: 200,392 (2nd highest)
> Average amount paid: $2,104 (21st highest)

There were 186.3 identity theft complaints per 100,000 Floridians, the highest rate nationwide. Florida’s senior population appears to make the state particularly vulnerable to identity theft, and all other types of fraud, which affected more than 1 in every 100 residents, also the highest rate in the nation. The fraud rate was almost a third higher than second-ranked Georgia, which had 777.7 fraud complaints for every 100,000 residents. Florida leads the nation in the percentage of its population over age 65, 18.6%. Many of Florida’s older residents likely recieve social security benefits, which could explain the 52% of Florida identity theft complaints that involved government documents or benefits fraud, versus 38.7% nationwide. In mid-2014, Florida changed state law to strengthen requirements that individuals be notified of data breaches which could lead to identity theft.

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