According to media reports, identity theft is a widespread problem -- but do Americans think this applies to them personally? Bankrate's most recent poll reveals that the answer is a resounding yes. In fact, eight out of 10 Americans express worry about having their identities stolen.
In many cases, their concern may be validated by personal knowledge of a victim. One-third of Americans (34 percent) know someone who has been a victim of identity theft. In the Northeast, it's closer to one in four (28 percent) while in the West almost one in two people (44 percent) know an ID theft victim.
Hard to know true number
"That is about what we see when we ask that question in presentations," says Linda Foley, founder and chairman of the board of the Identity Theft Resource Center. "But we know that victims may not share the fact that they have been victimized with anyone due to embarrassment or fear of losing a job."
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Because of the broad nature of the crime, the actual number of people who know a victim could be higher or lower, says Avivah Litan, vice president and analyst at Gartner, a technology and research advisory company.
"Everyone has their own definition of 'identity theft,'" says Litan. "For some it means wholesale identity hijacking. For others it could mean credit card theft. So it's hard to know what the respondents were thinking; thus the results could be skewed either way."
Bankrate commissioned GfK Roper to conduct a random survey of American households for this segment of our Financial Literacy series on identity theft. We sought to find out how people protect themselves against this crime and whether it is much of a concern. Interviewers questioned 1,006 adults -- 524 women and 482 men -- about identity theft.
The results show that consumers who personally know a victim of identity fraud tend to be more concerned about the crime overall. Further, their concern pushes them to take more steps toward protecting their personal information, although there does seem to be some ambiguity as to the most efficient privacy protection actions.