Press Release
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New survey released today gives clear picture of how identity theft occurs,
who the victims are and what it costs to remedy.

Hackensack, NJ//July 30, 2003 New survey results released today show 33.4 million Americans say they have been victims of identity theft or fraud since 1990, with over 13 million since January 2001 and rising. Designed by Dr. Alan Westin, Professor Emeritus of Public Law and Government at Columbia University; funded by Privacy & American Business (P&AB); and conducted by Harris Interactive, the survey also shows that victims out-of-pocket expenses have totaled $1.5 billion annually since January 2001.

While there were some variations by demographic groups, Dr. Westin noted that ID theft is broadly spread though the American community. "ID theft has become the all-American crime of the Information Age," he observed. "It affects the rich and poor, high school to university graduates, men and women, young and old, Blacks, Whites, and Hispanics. And the crime is thriving in cities and suburbs, and in all regions of the nation," he continued.

Survey Objectives

The survey probes the types of identity theft and their origins; tracks recent yearly trend lines, obtains estimates of costs to individual victims; identifies valuable demographic patterns; collects online narratives from victims to supplement statistical results; and relates findings to current industry and government anti-ID theft activities and pending policy choices.

The survey defined identity theft as a situation where someone assumes the identity of another and makes telephone calls or obtains merchandise, credit, or other valuable things in their name.

How ID Theft/Fraud Was Done

Survey respondents provided actual stories of how they were victimized by identity thieves. Of those who knew how the ID theft or fraud was committed:

In addition, 16% say it was a friend, relative or co-worker who stole their identity.

Extensive "verbatims" (comments in the victims own words) are included in the P&AB ID Theft Survey Report.

Theft Trend Up Sharply

The seven million victims the survey identified in 2002 represent an 81% rise over victims in 2001. And, incidents reported so far in 2003 suggest a major rise over 2002. The victims level and upward trend parallel findings of a Gartner survey released last week.

Victims Payout

While 62% of victims did not incur any out-of-pocket expenses, 38% did, representing 13-14 million Americans. Since January 2001, these 38% have paid approximately $3.8 billion, or an average of $1.5 billion per year. Based on actual amounts volunteered by respondents themselves, the average cost per victim for this time period is $740.

Consumers Dilemma

An earlier June 2002 survey on ID theft by P&AB and Harris found that a majority of Americans, 91%, do not see light at the end of the tunnel; they expect heavy ID theft incidents to increase rather than decrease in the near future. This 2002 survey also found that 49%, or 98 million adults, feel they do not know how to protect themselves against identity theft.

Some Consumers Taking Defensive Action

One in six consumers, representing almost 34 million, say they have bought a privacy protection product to help avoid identity theft, to check their credit report, and to surf or shop online anonymously. At $75, the average annual price for these products, these figures represent a $2.5 billion expenditure.

Not Just the U.S.A.

In addition, Dr. Westin noted, ID theft and fraud levels are now quite high in Canada, Australia, and Britain, and are developing in Japan, with quite similar costs to victims and businesses.

Survey Findings Implications

"These results document that ID theft and fraud are now both an organized and a freelance criminal activity of major proportions. We can (and should) try to contain and reduce it, but we cannot expect to eliminate it without adopting police-state methods or threatening the integrity and value of the American consumer reporting system," Dr. Westin said. "Furthermore, the diverse patterns of ID theft show that no one institution, industry, or government agency is to blame. But, some information practices and procedures of key players including consumers clearly need to be improved and important new consumer-assistance laws need to be enacted."

This months Privacy & American Business Electronic Newsletter is a special double issue on ID theft sponsored by Deloitte & Touche LLP. It covers survey results and actions the business community and government agencies are undertaking to curb identity theft and protect consumers. For access to this special issue, contact Irene Oujo at or (201) 996-1154.

For more information about P&ABs survey report and the Deloitte & Touche LLP-sponsored special double issue on identity theft, visit or contact Olga Garey at or (201) 996-1154.

For press inquiries, contact Irene Oujo at (201) 996-1154 or

Survey Methodology

This survey was conducted online May 19-27, 2003 by Harris Interactive. Commissioned by Privacy & American Business, 3,462 U.S. adults 18 and older were interviewed. Each 1% represents approximately 2.09 million people.

The June 2002 survey interviewed 2,244 adults online, representative of the general adult national public (or approximately 208 million adults). Harris Interactive conducted the survey online June 4-6, 2002.

Figures for age, sex, race, education and number of adults in the household were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. "Propensity score" weighting was also used to adjust the online-user-population results to reflect the full U.S. adult population, both online and not online.

In theory, with probability samples of this size, one could say with 95 percent certainty that the results have a statistical precision of plus or minus two percentage points of what they would be if the entire adult population had been polled with complete accuracy. There are several other possible sources of error in all polls or surveys that are probably more serious than theoretical calculations of sampling error. They include refusals to be interviewed (non-response), question wording and question order, and weighting. It is impossible to quantify the errors that may result from these factors. This online survey is not a probability sample.

About Privacy & American Business

Privacy & American Business, (,, &, is an activity of the Center for Social & Legal Research, a non-profit, non-partisan public policy think tank exploring U.S. and global issues of consumer and employee privacy and data protection since its launch in 1993.

Always on the cutting edge, P&AB was the first to chart and analyze for business the rise of privacy from a second-tier concern to a front-burner issue and to provide opportunities in programs and meetings to assist businesses in understanding the privacy environment as it is evolving. P&AB, a pioneer in recognizing the rise of the Corporate Privacy Officer (CPO), was the first to open its CPO Program in 1999.

The Center and all its activities are led by Dr. Alan Westin, Professor Emeritus of Public Law & Government, Columbia University, and President and Publisher of P&AB; Robert Belair, Partner at Oldaker, Biden & Belair and P&ABs Vice President; and Lorrie Sherwood, P&ABs Executive Director.

About Harris Interactive

Harris Interactive ( is a worldwide market research and consulting firm best known for The Harris Poll, and for pioneering the Internet method to conduct scientifically accurate market research. Headquartered in Rochester, New York, U.S.A., Harris Interactive combines proprietary methodologies and technology with expertise in predictive, custom and strategic research. The company conducts international research through wholly owned subsidiaries London-based HI Europe ( and Tokyo-based Harris Interactive Japan, as well as through the Harris Interactive Global Network of local market-and opinion-research firms, and various U.S. offices. EOE M/F/D/V