One of the real problems with many of the types of crimes addressed on this website is that the punishment does not seem to be harsh enough from authorities.
By this, we mean that the punishment for credit card fraud and other forms of identity theft are almost certainly not severe enough to put others off trying their luck. One aspect that falls very clearly in favour of the criminal (if caught and if the case goes to court) is that to many it is a ‘victimless’ crime. Clearly, there are victims. But because most victims will recover the majority of their losses from banking and financial institutions, there is a perception that nobody was hurt.
As discussed elsewhere on this site, clearing up the damage to a reputation and financial position can take up to 2 years. That does not seem ‘victimless’ to us.
For the police, if the ‘value’ of the crime is small, there is often little incentive to chase the trail and try and make a conviction. The media will often round on local police officers that chase small and often petty crimes hard, when there are murderers out on the streets. Because of this, there is a real sense that small cases waste police time. If that is the situation, then clearly adequate punishment for credit card fraud is still a long way away.
Are You Worried About Your Personal Data?
In researching this subject for this site, your author has read that many areas of the United States have semi-official numbers in place to determine whether they investigate a financial crime or not. It seems that offences much below US$100,000 will be unlikely to receive much – if any – attention. There is no doubt that a sound economic reasoning and logic underpins this number. The value of police time, court time and the cost of sentencing and imprisonment make small crimes unworthy of attention.
However, should you have been on the receiving end of this, and now be ‘short’ (lets say) US$80,000, it would seem very serious. It may be that much of this money would eventually be returned by the credit card company, but it would still be a very stressful situation.
At this point, it might be worth pointing out that if the cost of a crime is reimbursed to a victim, then that cost will be passed on to all customers in some way. This might be in the form of higher charges, less ‘free’ benefits and gifts or higher insurance premiums, but somehow we will all pay. This seems just as unfair as the cost being met by one victim, but this is the way of the world.
In contrast to all these costs, the criminal – if caught and prosecuted – is often looking at light levels of punishment. Why? No actual physical harm was likely to have been caused to the victim. These crimes rarely involve an assault or attack. There will probably not be any damage to property either. In addition, it might be that a substantial amount of the crime cannot be proven to have been taken by this criminal. That means that while they might have obtained tens of thousands, they may have only been caught in the act with a few hundred or thousand. The courts can only convict and punish for what they see and know to be true.
When you are considering whether or not to purchase an identity theft protection plan, probably the first bit of research you will do is check identity theft statistics. They give you an idea of just how vulnerable you really are before you choose your coverage. Some will tell you that you don’t need identity theft protection but when you look at the statistics, the facts tell you otherwise. Agencies such as the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) based in San Diego, California and Javelin Strategy & Research based in Pleasanton, California conduct studies to collect these statistics.
Do the Statistics Create the Need?
After examining all of these alarming statistics, the question remains: Do you need identity theft protection? You will have to admit that the numbers are not small. Consider also that these days we conduct a large portion of our financial transactions on the internet and most all of use ATMs. Can you really afford to be exploited by an identity theft? How much expense are you willing to go through to fix the damage done? And, after it’s all fixed, what if it happens again? Unless you’re an expert in identity theft and fraud detection, do you really know what to look for? As you examine the statistics that follow, keep these questions at the forefront of your mind.
Statistics Related to Incidence
According to a study done by Javelin in 2010, the instances of identity theft were summarized into a chart. It is no surprise that the highest occurrence of these crime incidents were related to making purchases either online or in person. Here is what they found.
In-person purchases – 42%
Online purchases – 42%
Mail/phone purchases – 21%ATM withdrawals – 10%
Writing checks – 10%
Gift cards, purchase attempts, bill pay, obtaining a new credit card, obtaining health care, in-person cash withdrawal – less than 7%
As you can see, if you use a credit card either online or in-person, you are at more than a 4 in 10 chance of becoming an identity theft victim. Those odds are rather high. In 2007, the U.S. Department of Justice estimated that 6.6% or 7.9 million households had at least one member who was a victim of this crime. While this statistic makes the odds a little better, consider that compared to 2005, it was a 23% increase. The Department of Justice also reported in 2007 that 30% of households had at least $500 stolen from them due to an identity theft incident. Can you really afford to lose $500 or more?
Statistics after the Crime
Just using your credit card online puts you at a 40% greater risk of being a victim of identity theft.
Statistics after the crime are related to how long it takes for a person to realize he or she is a victim. Credit monitoring services reduce the lull time between the crime and discovery of it. According to Javelin, a little under half (48%) of the total reported identity theft incidents were discovered by the victims. This indicates that 4-5 out of 10 people are monitoring there credit files or statements and reporting when something looks out of place. Yet this figure still indicates that the other half of the population is not monitoring their information at all. Not monitoring could mean that it could take months to years to detect after significant damage has taken place.
The importance of regular monitoring of your credit file is critical for timely action when the crime occurs.
What it all Costs
What is really disturbing as shown by identity theft statistics is the rising costs to consumers for this type of crime. Javelin published a chart comparing 2006 consumer misappropriated funds to the same category for 2010. It is alarming to find a total of $176,397 misappropriated funds compared to the 2006 total of $75,000. It shows a 234% increase in what this crime costs to consumers.
Now that you know some of the stats, isn’t it time you got some protection? To select a credit monitoring plan, read our review of the top 10 monitoring companies.