During the last decade, cases of stolen tax returns have surged, while overall identity theft complaints to federal authorities have declined.
Analyzing more than 1.4 million identity theft records from the Federal Trade Commission from 2005 through early 2010, a recent study found that consumer complaints have declined sharply in recent years – 20.2 percent from 2008 to 2010. Identity theft experts and victims attribute the decline to increased vigilance by credit card companies and other financial institutions.
Logging the most complaints were residents in California (230,269), Texas (144,272) and Florida (105,241). Over the five-year period, the most common type of identity theft was new credit cards obtained through the theft of victims' personal information. This type of theft accounted for 13.2 percent of all ID theft complaints.
Another growing trend is the use of a victim's identity by a criminal to obtain electric or gas service at an address. In 2005, the FTC reported 8,427 complaints of utility identity theft. According to FTC records, complaints of a thief using a victim's credit card dropped nearly 32 percent from 2005 to 2009, the last year there was full data available. The drop has been attributed to the financial industry's success at finding and squashing identity theft cases, while providing full reimbursements to consumers.
But some areas of identity theft are continuing to grow. At the top of that lis is stolen tax returns, which jumped from 11,010 complaints in 2005, to 33,774 in 2009.
FTC records also show that there are some hotspots for identity theft. Brownsville, Texas, which is along the U.S./Mexico border, has the highest volume of identity theft complaints, attributed to illegal immigrant and drug smuggling activity in that region.
Another flashpoint is Brooklyn, N.Y., which experts say is due to its proximity to New York City, headquarters for mafia groups and international crime rings that operate massive identity theft and fraud scams throughout the U.S.