Identity Theft and Credit Card Fraud Statistics for 2021

By:  Lyle Daly | Updated Aug. 26, 2021

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The latest identity theft and credit card fraud statistics paint a bleak picture. They're two of the most common financial crimes, and each of them saw significant growth in 2020.

Part of the growth was due to the pandemic. There were 323,920 reports of COVID-19 fraud last year, a number that has since grown to over 500,000. That number likely underscores COVID-19's impact, as the pandemic also indirectly led to increases in certain types of fraud and identity theft. Government benefits fraud, in particular, skyrocketed as criminals stole stimulus checks and unemployment benefits.

It was one of the most eventful years on record for identity theft and credit card fraud. Read on for a full report covering how these crimes have evolved, the demographics at the biggest risk, and much more.

Key findings

  • There were 1,387,615 reports of identity theft in 2020.
  • Government documents or benefits fraud was the most common type of identity theft in 2020 after an increase of 1,663% from 2019.
  • Those aged 30 to 39 reported the most cases of identity theft.
  • Kansas, Rhode Island, and Illinois were the top three states for identity theft per capita.
  • Credit card fraud rose by 44.7% over 2019 levels to 393,207 reports.
  • There were 1,108 data breaches in 2020, the lowest total since 2016.
  • The number of people affected by data breaches has decreased significantly, from over 2.5 billion in 2016 to just over 300 million in 2020.

Identity theft in the United States

The Federal Trade Commission received nearly 1.4 million reports of identity theft in 2020. Identity theft was the most common type of complaint lodged by consumers, and it accounted for 29.4% of all the reports received by the FTC.

Identity theft reports in the United States

2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
398,356 370,916 444,344 650,523 1,387,615
Data source: Federal Trade Commission (2018–2021).

Identity theft was already on the rise over the last three years and hit a new high in 2019, but that record was short-lived. The number of reports more than doubled, increasing by 113% from 2019 to 2020.

According to a report by the Aite Group, identity theft cases resulted in losses of $712.4 billion in 2020. That was a 42% increase from 2019, when identity theft caused $502.5 billion in losses.

Note that those identity theft losses are total losses for all parties involved, not just consumers. The FTC reports that consumers lost a total of $3.3 billion to fraud in 2020, which was nearly $1.5 billion more than in 2019.

The most common types of identity theft

Identity theft comes in many forms. Although numbers were up across the board in 2020, certain types of identity theft grew much more than others.

Type of identity theft Number of reports in 2020 Change from 2019
Government documents or benefits fraud 406,375 1,663%
Credit card fraud 393,207 44.7%
Other identity theft 353,152 63.7%
Loan or lease fraud 204,967 95.8%
Employment or tax-related fraud 113,529 149.2%
Phone or utilities fraud 99,539 19.2%
Bank fraud 89,476 52.4%
Data source: Federal Trade Commission (2020, 2021).

There was a staggering increase in government documents or benefits fraud in 2020, which went up by more than 1,600% over 2019.

That number gets even larger when we hone in on identity theft that involved applying for/receiving government benefits. There was a 2,920% increase in this specific subtype of fraud, which was the subject of 394,324 reports.

Government benefits include stimulus checks and unemployment insurance payments, both of which were targeted by criminals during the pandemic. The U.S. Department of Labor estimated that thieves stole $26 billion in unemployment benefits.

Based on the massive jump in this type of fraud, it's clear that the COVID-19 pandemic drastically increased identity theft numbers.

The growth of synthetic account fraud

Identity thieves are always developing new ways to steal money. A relatively new form of identity theft, called synthetic account fraud, is one of the fastest-growing financial crimes in the nation.

Synthetic account fraud involves a combination of real and fabricated information, such as a real Social Security number and a false name. The synthetic identity can be used to apply for credit cards, loans, and government benefits. Perpetrators often spend time building a good credit score with synthetic identities. Then, they max out an identity's credit and abandon its accounts.

A 2017 analysis by Auriemma Group pegged annual synthetic fraud losses at $6 billion. Synthetic fraud was also a common scheme when the federal government launched its Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Criminals would use synthetic identities to borrow loans intended for small businesses that were struggling during the pandemic.

Identity theft reports by age

Age Identity theft reports in 2019 Identity theft reports in 2020 Change
19 and under 14,211 23,651 66.4%
20 to 29 110,769 190,916 72.4%
30 to 39 170,255 306,090 79.8%
40 to 49 122,752 302,678 146.6%
50 to 59 77,350 244,183 215.7%
60 to 69 44,679 123,112 175.5%
70 to 79 17,161 39,009 127.3%
80 and over 5,687 9,915 74.3%
Total 562,864 1,239,554 120.2%
Data source: Federal Trade Commission (2020, 2021) Note: 87% of identity theft reports in 2019 and 89% in 2020 had the consumer's age.

Those in the 30-to-39 age range have consistently recorded the most identity theft reports, but that could be changing. Every group from 40 through 79 had their number of reports more than double from 2019 to 2020. For Americans between the ages of 50 and 59, identity theft reports more than tripled.

One potential reason why identity theft went up so much more in those age groups is because they were more frequent targets of government benefits fraud. Here's a look at the most common types of identity theft for each age group:

Age Most common type of identity theft Number of reports Percentage of age's total identity theft reports
19 and under Employment or tax-related fraud 13,561 57.3%
20 to 29 Credit card fraud 65,779 34.5%
30 to 39 Credit card fraud 110,952 36.2%
40 to 49 Government documents or benefits fraud 115,533 38.2%
50 to 59 Government documents or benefits fraud 127,823 52.3%
60 to 69 Government documents or benefits fraud 63,071 51.2%
70 to 79 Government documents or benefits fraud 16,497 42.3%
80 and over Government documents or benefits fraud 2,806 28.3%
Data source: Federal Trade Commission (2021).

Identity theft by state

Here are the states with the most identity theft reports in 2020:

  1. California: 147,382
  2. Illinois: 135,038
  3. Texas: 134,788
  4. Florida: 101,367
  5. Georgia: 69,487

Population sizes play a large role in which states have the most identity theft reports. To get an accurate idea of where identity theft is most prevalent, we can look at each state's number of reports per 100,000 residents.

States ranked by identity theft reports in 2020 per capita

Rank State Identity theft reports per 100K population in 2020 Total number of reports in 2020
1 Kansas 1,483 43,211
2 Rhode Island 1,191 12,621
3 Illinois 1,066 135,038
4 Nevada 740 22,801
5 Washington 712 54,247
6 Massachusetts 661 45,575
7 Georgia 654 69,487
8 Arkansas 579 17,470
9 Maine 534 7,183
10 Louisiana 473 21,976
11 Florida 472 101,367
12 Texas 465 134,788
13 Delaware 449 4,374
14 Arizona 380 27,661
15 California 373 147,382
16 South Carolina 373 19,193
17 Mississippi 371 11,048
18 New Jersey 362 32,125
19 Colorado 361 20,762
20 Alabama 354 17,376
21 Oklahoma 349 13,797
22 New York 345 67,202
23 Maryland 343 20,718
24 Utah 292 9,366
25 North Carolina 288 30,176
26 Tennessee 281 19,182
27 Hawaii 271 3,835
28 Pennsylvania 265 33,886
29 Indiana 257 17,306
30 Michigan 244 24,370
31 Montana 228 2,439
32 Missouri 222 13,653
33 Ohio 222 25,893
34 Connecticut 191 6,821
35 Virginia 183 15,632
36 Oregon 176 7,432
37 New Hampshire 169 2,301
38 North Dakota 166 1,266
39 New Mexico 165 3,454
40 Wisconsin 154 8,986
41 Wyoming 151 875
42 West Virginia 148 2,646
43 Minnesota 146 8,246
44 Idaho 132 2,353
45 Vermont 130 810
46 Kentucky 127 5,693
47 Alaska 127 926
48 Nebraska 113 2,182
49 Iowa 96 3,022
50 South Dakota 72 637
Data source: Federal Trade Commission (2021).

Every state saw its identity theft numbers go up, but some of the increases are hard to believe.

Kansas had the most identity theft reports per capita after ranking 39th in this category just a year ago. It went from 78 reports per 100,000 residents to 1,483, an increase of over 1,800%. Second-place Rhode Island saw its number of identity theft reports increase by about 1,000%.

South Dakota had the fewest reports overall. It also had the lowest number of reports per capita for the second year in a row.

If you want to delve even deeper into specific locations, you can look at which metropolitan areas are hotspots for identity theft.

Top metropolitan areas for identity theft

Rank Metropolitan area Identity theft reports per 100K population in 2020 Total number of reports in 2020
1 Topeka, KS 1,925 4,465
2 Lawrence, KS 1,717 2,099
3 Wichita, KS 1,395 8,929
4 Manhattan, KS 1,207 1,573
5 Tuscaloosa, AL 1,195 3,011
6 Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, AR 1,156 8,579
7 Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI 1,145 108,287
8 Bloomington, IL 1,042 1,788
9 Springfield, IL 994 2,056
10 Providence-Warwick, RI-MA 970 15,751
11 Peoria, IL 935 3,746
12 Sumter, SC 916 1,286
13 Memphis, TN-MS-AR 902 12,136
14 Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Alpharetta, GA 896 53,964
15 Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 879 34,968
16 Champaign-Urbana, IL 870 1,966
17 Decatur, IL 824 857
18 Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL 816 50,341
19 Kankakee, IL 815 895
20 Kansas City, MO-KS 806 17,400
21 Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV 803 18,206
22 Rockford, IL 738 2,480
23 Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX 724 51,165
24 Shreveport-Bossier City, LA 713 2,816
25 Olympia-Lacey-Tumwater, WA 711 2,066
26 Portland-South Portland, ME 691 3,722
27 Tallahassee, FL 686 2,655
28 Killeen-Temple, TX 680 3,131
29 Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH 678 33,030
30 Warner Robins, GA 677 1,256
31 Florence, SC 668 1,369
32 Bremerton-Silverdale-Port Orchard, WA 637 1,730
33 Ottawa, IL 633 931
34 Carbondale-Marion, IL 631 857
35 Reno, NV 609 2,895
36 Augusta-Waterville, ME 598 731
37 Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 597 45,242
38 Bellingham, WA 591 1,354
39 Macon-Bibb County, GA 590 1,357
40 Columbus, GA-AL 588 1,887
41 Columbia, SC 587 4,918
42 Wenatchee, WA 585 706
43 Spokane-Spokane Valley, WA 579 3,294
44 Lafayette, LA 573 2,805
45 Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 568 75,066
46 Pinehurst-Southern Pines, NC 557 562
47 Worcester, MA-CT 537 5,087
48 Baton Rouge, LA 527 4,506
49 Bangor, ME 521 792
50 Yakima, WA 516 1,294
Data source: Federal Trade Commission (2021).

Credit card fraud in the United States

From 2017 through 2019, credit card fraud was the most common type of identity theft. It was supplanted by government benefits fraud this year, but it still ranked second, and credit cards were a popular target for fraudsters.

Credit card fraud reports by year

2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
124,522 133,100 157,743 271,927 393,207
Data source: Federal Trade Commission (2021).

Although credit card fraud has been consistently rising, some years see much larger increases than others. The number of reports went up by 44.7% in 2020. In prior years, that would have been a significant amount. But compared to other types of identity theft, credit card fraud had the second-smallest increase.

Types of credit card fraud

There are two types of credit card fraud:

  • New account: An identity thief uses your information to open a credit card account in your name.
  • Existing account: An identity thief uses a credit card that you opened. This is usually done by stealing the credit card information.

Here are the number of fraud reports for each of these and how much they changed from 2019 to 2020:

Type of credit card fraud Number of reports in 2020 Change from 2019
New account 365,597 48%
Existing account 33,852 9%
Data source: Federal Trade Commission (2021).

New account fraud has seen significant growth in recent years. It previously increased by 24% in 2018 and 88% in 2019.

Existing account fraud, on the other hand, hasn't moved much over that same timeframe. It declined by 6% in 2018 and 4% in 2019.

When you think of how to avoid credit card fraud, preventing people from getting your card information probably comes to mind. But the statistics show us that it's actually far more likely for someone to open an entirely new account using your personal data.

Why has there been this huge shift to new account fraud? There are several explanations that likely play a part:

  • Existing account fraud has become more difficult. Because of credit card chip technology, the transaction process is more secure and it's harder for criminals to counterfeit credit cards.
  • Data breaches have exposed information for hundreds of millions of people. Identity thieves can use this information for new account fraud.
  • It's easier to steal money through new account fraud, since it's an entirely new account that the consumer doesn't know about. With an existing account, the card issuer or the consumer may notice suspicious activity and lock the card.

Data breaches

Data breaches are one of the ways criminals commit identity theft and credit card fraud. The hackers who steal information through data breaches often sell it on the dark web. Buyers then use the information for various types of fraud.

Data breaches by year

Year Number of data breaches Number of individuals impacted
2016 1,104 2,541,581,891
2017 1,631 2,081,515,330
2018 1,280 2,231,245,353
2019 1,362 887,286,658
2020 1,108 300,562,519
Data source: Identity Theft Resource Center (2021).

Both the number of data breaches and the number of individuals affected have been declining. The number of data breaches dropped by 19% in 2020, and the number of individuals affected fell by 66%. While this sounds like good news, it's not necessarily a sign that security is improving.

The Identity Theft Resource Center reports that cybercriminals are simply less interested in stealing massive amounts of consumers' personal information. They prefer to target businesses because of the larger payouts, and their methods of choice are phishing and ransomware. Here's how these cyberattacks work:

  • Phishing is when a cybercriminal pretends to be a trusted entity so the target will click a link in an email, text message, or chat message.
  • Ransomware is a type of malware that threatens to release sensitive data if the target doesn't pay a ransom.

According to Coveware, the average ransomware payout was $233,817 as of the third quarter of 2020. It was less than $10,000 in the third quarter of 2018.

Scamming $233,000 from individual consumers could take years. By going after a bigger fish in a business, cybercriminals can make much more money in a short period of time.

It's important not to get the wrong idea from this data. As we've seen from the identity theft and credit card fraud statistics, those crimes still occur and are on the rise. The risk of having your information exposed in a data breach is out there, even if businesses are the bigger target now.

Causes of data breaches in 2020

Cause of data breaches in 2020 Number of events Number of individuals impacted
Cyberattacks 878 169,575,338
Human and system errors 152 130,043,536
Physical attacks 78 943,645
Data source: Identity Theft Resource Center (2021).

There were three root causes of the 1,108 data breaches in 2020:

  • Cyberattacks: Includes phishing, ransomware, malware, and non-secured cloud environments.
  • Human and system errors: Includes failure to configure cloud security, email or letter correspondence, and lost devices and documents.
  • Physical attacks: Includes device theft, document theft, improper disposal, and skimming devices.

Cyberattacks are by far the most common cause of data breaches and impact the largest number of people overall. Human and system errors don't happen nearly as often, but when they do, they impact more people on average. A cyberattack in 2020 impacted an average of under 200,000 people, whereas each human and system error impacted over 850,000.

Types of data compromised in 2020

Type of data compromised Number of breaches containing data in 2020
Name 973
Full Social Security number 556
Date of birth 428
Current home address 425
Bank account number 211
Payment card full number 180
Payment cardholder name 154
Payment card expiration date 153
Data source: Identity Theft Resource Center (2021).

There were dozens of different types of data compromised in 2020's data breaches. The table above includes the numbers for the types of data that are often used for identity theft.

Most data breaches included people's names, and a little over half of them included full Social Security numbers. Fortunately, fewer than 20% of data breaches contained bank account or payment card information.

A turbulent year for identity theft and credit card fraud

From a fraud perspective, 2020 may be the worst year on record. Identity theft numbers soared, and government benefits fraud ran rampant during the pandemic. Even though credit card fraud increased far less than other types of identity theft, there were still over 120,000 more reports than the prior year.

Data breaches dropped and affected far less consumers than in years past. But that positive news comes with the caveat that criminals are focusing more of their attention on businesses.

It's possible that what happened in 2020 is a one-off. There aren't as many government benefits available as the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, which could lead to a large decline in government benefits fraud. This may be a gradual process, though, and we won't know for sure until we see the statistics for 2021.

Sources

Many or all of the products here are from our partners that pay us a commission. It’s how we make money. But our editorial integrity ensures our experts’ opinions aren’t influenced by compensation. Terms may apply to offers listed on this page.

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