Identity thefts have almost doubled in the US over the last year, according to a survey published on Monday by research firm Gartner. But the problem is not confined to the high-tech world; non-Internet users are just as likely to fall victim.
In the past year, around seven million Americans became victims of fraud after their identities were stolen, which is a 79 percent increase from the previous year. Gartner estimated that the criminals responsible for ID fraud crimes have only a one in 700 chance of being caught, even though half the thieves know their victims personally.
Scam emails portraying to be from relatives of wealthy ex-statesmen in Africa are common, as are the various get-rich quick schemes, but the majority of people become a victim after -- accidentally or not -- disclosing personal information, such as a national insurance/social security number, driver's licence number, address, credit card or bank account details.
Avivah Litan, vice president and research director for Gartner, said in a statement: "More than half of all identity theft -- where the method of theft is documented -- is committed by criminals that have established relationships with their victims, such as family members, roommates, neighbours, or co-workers." He explained that Identity theft is not just a computer-related crime, its victims are just as likely to be "low-tech adults who don't spend any time on the Internet," he said.
The stolen information can be used to take out a loan or even to buy goods and services on credit, the company said.
ID theft is also an issue in the UK, where the government recently introduced new powers and tougher sentences to help fight the growing threat. Home office minister Beverley Hughes last month told a crime conference that false identities are commonly used in organised crime and by terrorist groups.
According to Hughes, although ID fraud cost the UK £1.3bn last year, it is not simply about money: "Even if people do not lose out financially, the process of getting their records put right is still time consuming and stressful," said Hughes who estimates that the average victim will spend 300 hours correcting their records.