Identity Theft in America: How Many People Are Affected? [Survey]

All About Cookies surveyed U.S. adults to find out how many people have been victims of identity theft and what the impact was.
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Identity theft affects millions of people in the U.S. every year. From phishing attempts to the loss of someone’s life savings, the effects of ID theft are wide ranging and impact individuals in a variety of ways. But how common is identity theft, and how do people recover from it?

To find out, the All About Cookies team surveyed 1,000 people to discover if they’ve ever had their identity stolen, how their identity was compromised, how long it took them to recover, and more.

In this article
Key findings
Do you know anyone who has had their identity stolen?
What are the most common ways to have your identity stolen?
What do thieves use these stolen identities for?
When do victims realize they’ve had their identity stolen?
How long does it take to recover from identity theft?
Tips for keeping your identity safe
Methodology

Key findings

  • Identity theft is ubiquitous: 51% of respondents said it’s happened to them or someone close to them, including 18% who have had their own identity stolen.
  • Victims report identity theft has cost them $2,750 on average.
  • More than one-third of ID theft victims found out only after discovering missing money or unusual charges on their accounts.
  • More than a quarter of people who have had their identities stolen do not know how thieves acquired their data.
  • 46% of victims were able to resolve their identity theft issues in under one month, but 27% said they are still actively dealing with the repercussions today.

Do you know anyone who has had their identity stolen?

Identity theft hits close to home for many, many people. In fact, our survey revealed that more than half of the U.S. population have a close connection to this crime.

An infographic showing how many people are related to someone who has had their identity stolen.

Nearly one out of every five people (18%) have been victims of identity theft, but the commonality doesn’t stop there.

A deeper dive into our respondents’ social circles reveals that if you include family members, friends, and coworkers in addition to themselves, then more than half the population (51%) knows someone who has had their identity stolen. On average, ID theft victims say these crimes cost them $2,752, in both direct harm and the repair of any direct harm.

What are the most common ways to have your identity stolen?

Stealing someone’s identity requires access to personal identifying information that is typically difficult to find, such as Social Security numbers and banking or credit account information.

Given the prevalence of identity theft, despite protective measures, it’s clear that thieves are finding ways to access delicate information. But how exactly are they getting their hands on it?

A chart showing how identity thieves get their victims' data.

While thieves use a number of different methods to steal information, three methods seem to be most common:

  • Stealing documents that contain personal information
  • Using a device to capture personal information
  • Accessing data breaches that leak personal information

What do thieves use these stolen identities for?

Access to someone’s personal data is merely the first step for identity thieves. Once they have the information, they can cause real problems for their victims. We found some of the most common crimes thieves use stolen identities for.

A chart showing various things identity thieves do with stolen identities.

The top answer is also the most obvious: actual theft. Nearly half of identity theft victims (49%) say that thieves used their data to take money from banking and other financial accounts.

43% of victims say that their information was used to open new accounts in their name, such as lines of credit or cell phone plans. And 26% of victims say that the thieves took out loans in their name, including things like car loans or mortgages.

More than 1 in 10 victims (11%) do not know what their identity was used for at all, leaving them open to any number of nasty surprises.

When do victims realize they’ve had their identity stolen?

Identity crimes don’t often go undiscovered for long. Most major banks and credit cards send security alerts for suspicious activity, and most people notice if money’s missing from their accounts. We investigated the efficacy of typical fraud alerts like these.

A chart showing ways that victims realized their identity had been stolen.

As for timing, 50% of people report that they became aware that their identity had been stolen within two weeks of the crime occurring. This includes more than one-third of people (35%) that became aware within the same week their identity had been stolen.

Nearly half of victims were alerted to the theft by a credit monitoring service, which flagged suspicious activity on their accounts. Alternatively, a significant portion of victims (37%) say that they noticed the theft on their own after money was taken from their accounts.

How long does it take to recover from identity theft?

Identity theft victims have to take steps to reverse or mitigate any damage the thieves have caused, including to financial accounts and credit scores. They also have to protect their data going forward.

A chart showing how long it takes for victims to recover from identity theft.

Thankfully, many victims (46%) report that it took them less than one month to fully recover after their identity was stolen, with one-fifth saying it took just one week or less.

But that does not mean it is simple for everyone. More than one-quarter of victims (27%) say they are still actively dealing with the fallout from their identity being stolen, while 10% of victims report that it took more than one year to fully recover from the crime.

A chart showing common steps people take to try to recover their lost identities. Includes options like contacting impacted companies and reporting fraud to credit agencies.

44% of victims took two common reparative steps once they realized their identity had been stolen:

  • Contacting affected financial institutions, such as banks and fraudulent account issuers
  • Reporting the fraud to credit reporting agencies.

Other common steps include replacing credit cards (42%), signing up for credit monitoring or identity theft protection (38%), and freezing credit (36%). Only 3% of victims said they did absolutely nothing after learning their identity had been stolen.

Tips for keeping your identity safe

Despite its prevalence, there are still plenty of steps you can take to make sure your identity and personal information stay safe online:

  • Learn about PII. Your personally identifiable information (PII) can include details such as your name, address, or Social Security number. This is all information that can reveal your identity to online criminals if it’s compromised.
  • Recognize ID theft signs. Knowing what the early signs of identity theft look like will help you recognize what’s going on much sooner if your information is stolen, so you can recover much quicker.
  • Secure your accounts with a password manager. Your accounts will not be harder to access if they’re protected by unique secure passwords. If you have a lot of accounts to manage, look into using a password manager to keep everything secure and organized.

Methodology

All About Cookies surveyed 1,000 U.S. adults in June, 2023. Only respondents who indicated that they have personally had their identity stolen were asked to answer specific questions relating to the experience of dealing with identity theft. In most cases respondents were able to select multiple responses to account for instances where multiple methods may have been used to access or exploit a stolen identity.

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Author Details
Josh Koebert is an experienced content marketer that loves exploring how tech overlaps with topics such as sports, food, pop culture, and more. His work has been featured on sites such as CNN, ESPN, Business Insider, and Lifehacker.