10 States With the Most Identity Theft

May 18, 2016 by Thomas C. Frohlich

Identity Theft
Source: Thinkstock
Identity theft — when a criminal steals personal information such as a social security or credit card number — remains one of the most popular scams in the United States. Just as the importance of digital identities and online transactions has risen during the age of the Internet, so too has the incidence of fraud-related activity — especially identity theft.

The Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network received more than 3 million consumer complaints in 2015, 16% of which were identity theft complaints. Scams involving government documents, such as when a social security is stolen to file a fraudulent tax return, were the most common method of identity theft, followed by credit card fraud. Credit card fraud involves criminals using another person’s credit card to make purchases or using another person’s information to open credit card accounts.

Missouri reported 22,164 identity theft complaints, or 364.3 per 100,000 people — by far the largest incidence of identity theft of any state. Connecticut and Florida reported the second and third highest incidence of identity theft, and California rounded out the top 10. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 states with the most identity theft per capita.

Click here to see the 10 states with the most identity theft.

While the number of identity theft victims in a given year represents a relatively small proportion of the U.S. population, the problem is only getting worse. The number of fraud complaints has steadily increased almost every year since 2001, when just 325,519 complaints were documented.

Fraud as well as identity theft crimes are very costly. In 2015, the Consumer Sentinel Network reported $765.3 million stolen across over 1 million scams. The financial cost of the average successful scam is $1,154. Frauds reported in states with the highest level of identity theft were not necessarily more costly. In fact, the average amount defrauded exceeded the national average in only four of the 10 states.

Most states have implemented measures to protect residents from fraud. For example, in Maryland, which was one of the first states to pass identity theft legislation, credit reports can be frozen by victims of identity theft. In an FTC press release in March, Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said, “Steps like the recent upgrade to IdentityTheft.gov and our leadership of a nationwide initiative to combat unlawful debt collection practices are critical to our ongoing work to protect consumers from these harms.”

To identify the 10 states with the highest incidence of identity theft, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data for the 2015 calendar year from the FTC’s Sentinel Network Data Book, which compiles the total number of fraud complaints in each state. These complaints are categorized as either identity theft or a second category, which includes all other kinds of fraud. The average amount stolen from victims of fraud also came from the FTC. Fines and penalties for identity theft in each state came from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

These are the states with the most identity theft victims.

10. California
> Identity theft complaints per 100,000:
141.3
> Total identity theft complaints: 55,305 (the highest)
> Fraud and other complaints per 100,000: 750 (2nd highest)
> Avg. amount stolen: $1,468 (3rd highest)

There were 55,305 reported cases of identify theft in California in 2015. This was by far the largest number compared with other states. Adjusted for the population, at 141.3 cases per 100,000 people, it was the 10th highest incidence of identity theft. The largest share of identity theft cases — nearly a third — involved government documents, such as fraudulent tax filings, or benefits fraud, followed closely by credit card fraud. Identity theft can be extremely costly, and this is especially the case in California. The typical victim of fraud lost $1,468, the third highest amount of all states. By contrast, the average scam nationwide costs the victim $1,154.

9. New Hampshire
> Identity theft complaints per 100,000:
142.0
> Total identity theft complaints: 1,890 (13th lowest)
> Fraud and other complaints per 100,000: 572 (10th lowest)
> Avg. amount stolen: $1,163 (12th highest)

Among the top 10 states for identity theft, New Hampshire is exceptionally small. Also, while other states particularly vulnerable to identity theft also had a high incidence of all types of fraud, in New Hampshire, the 572 fraud complaints per 100,000 residents was among the lowest. This means that a disproportionately large share of frauds committed in the state are identify thefts. Of Identity theft cases reported last year, more than two-thirds involved government documents or benefits fraud.

8. Texas
> Identity theft complaints per 100,000:
144.3
> Total identity theft complaints: 39,630 (3rd highest)
> Fraud and other complaints per 100,000: 941 (3rd highest)
> Avg. amount stolen: $1,157 (14th highest)

Victims reported 39,630 counts of identity theft in Texas last year, equivalent to 144.3 incidents for every 100,000 state residents. Nationally, government documents or benefits fraud are the most common form of identity theft, while credit card fraud is the second most common — and this is also the case in Texas. Of all cases of identity theft in the Lone Star State, 48% involved government documents or benefits fraud, and 14% involved credit card fraud. Like a number of other states, Texas reported a spike in debt collection scams, which made up 55% of all fraud complaints in the state last year.

7. Georgia
> Identity theft complaints per 100,000:
149.1
> Total identity theft complaints: 15,230 (9th highest)
> Fraud and other complaints per 100,000: 1,208 (4th highest)
> Avg. amount stolen: $873 (13th lowest)

In Georgia, identity theft is punishable by a maximum fine of $100,000 and up to 10 years in prison. Still, there were 15,230 identity theft complaints in the state in 2015 alone, equal to 149.1 complaints per 100,000 residents, one of the highest incident rates in the country. More than two-thirds of identity theft complaints in the state were in the Atlanta metro area, where the identity theft rate of 185.6 complaints per 100,000 residents is far higher than the statewide rate. The typical victim of identity theft lost $873, considerably less than the $1,154 nationwide average financial loss per incident.

6. Michigan
> Identity theft complaints per 100,000:
158.1
> Total identity theft complaints: 15,684 (7th highest)
> Fraud and other complaints per 100,000: 1,144 (5th highest)
> Avg. amount stolen: $820 (7th lowest)

Nationwide, credit card fraud is more common than phone or utilities fraud. Michigan, however, bucks the trend. Only 12% of identity theft in Michigan is related to credit cards, and 18% is classified as phone or utilities fraud, in contrast with the respective national rates of 16% and 10%. The vast majority of identity theft in Michigan occurs in the Detroit metro area, where the identity theft rate of 220.4 complaints per 100,000 area residents is far greater than the statewide rate of 158.1 complaints per 100,000. The incidence of identity theft in Detroit is also one of the highest in the nation.

5. Illinois
> Identity theft complaints per 100,000:
158.7
> Total identity theft complaints: 20,414 (6th highest)
> Fraud and other complaints per 100,000: 517 (9th highest)
> Avg. amount stolen: $907 (15th lowest)

Identity theft is a felony in Illinois. An individual convicted of stealing the identity of a member of the armed services for financial gain faces even stricter felony charges in Illinois. This does not appear to be much of a deterrent, however. There were 158.7 reported cases of identity theft for every 100,000 Illinois residents in 2015, more than in all but four other states. Roughly half of all identity theft cases in the state were related to government documents — primarily fraudulent tax filings — or benefits fraud. Loan fraud was the least common type of identity theft in Illinois, accounting for 3% of all complaints.

4. Maryland
> Identity theft complaints per 100,000:
183.2
> Total identity theft complaints: 11,006 (12th highest)
> Fraud and other complaints per 100,000: 749 (13th highest)
> Avg. amount stolen: $973 (24th lowest)

Of the 44,985 fraud complaints in Maryland, 11,006 were of identity theft. A similar number, 11,314, were debt collection scams, and together the two fraud methods accounted for close to 40% of all fraud complaints in the state. Identity theft is a relatively new crime, with incidents increasing dramatically only after the proliferation of electronic devices in the age of the Internet. Identity fraud became a crime in Maryland only in 1999. In 2007, Maryland became one of the first states to implement a credit freeze option for individuals victimized by fraud. Credit card fraud accounted for 14% of all identity theft cases in Maryland, trailing government documents and benefits methods, which accounted for 57% of all reported cases.

3. Florida
> Identity theft complaints per 100,000:
217.4
> Total identity theft complaints: 44,063 (2nd highest)
> Fraud and other complaints per 100,000: 1,510 (the highest)
> Avg. amount stolen: $1,050 (22nd highest)

Counting all types of fraud, including identity theft, debt collection, impostor scams, prizes, sweepstakes, lotteries, as well as bank and lending frauds, Florida is far and away the national leader. There were 1,510 reported cases of overall fraud per 100,000 Floridians. Of the 350,196 fraud complaints, 44,063 were cases of identity theft, or 217.4 complaints per 100,000 state residents — the third highest identity theft rate of all states. Elderly communities in Florida, home to a growing number of retirees, may be especially at high risk of fraud. Nationwide, Americans 50 years old and over account for nearly 60% of all fraud cases. This could likely, at least in part, explain the high fraud incidence in the Sunshine State.

2. Connecticut
> Identity theft complaints per 100,000:
225.0
> Total identity theft complaints: 8,078 (18th highest)
> Fraud and other complaints per 100,000: 554 (22nd lowest)
> Avg. amount stolen: $1,182 (11th highest)

Like in most states, government documents or benefits schemes were the most popular identity stealing method in Connecticut. These types of fraud, which frequently take the form of fraudulent tax filings, accounted for 64% of all reported cases of identity theft in the state.

Identity theft and fraud are always costly to victims, and in these 10 states the impact is certainly larger. The average amount stolen from a victim of identity theft in Connecticut of $1,182 exceeded the national average of amount lost of $1,154. The higher financial loss could be partially due to the high incomes in Connecticut. The typical Connecticut household earns $69,899 annually, the fourth highest median household income nationwide.

1. Missouri
> Identity theft complaints per 100,000:
364.3
> Total identity theft complaints: 22,164 (5th highest)
> Fraud and other complaints per 100,000: 609 (17th highest)
> Avg. amount stolen: $931 (18th lowest)

For every 100,000 Missouri residents, victims of fraud in the state reported 364.3 cases of identity theft, the highest incidence of the crime of all states. The average case of fraud in Missouri cost the victim $931. This is not especially high compared to other states or to the national average amount stolen of $1,154.

Fraud complaints are more common in metropolitan areas than they are across states. St. Louis is far and away the nation’s leader in identity theft crimes, with 684 cases of identity theft reported for every 100,000 city residents. The California-Lexington Park, Maryland area is a distant second, with 357 per 100,000 residents reported.