Study: Identity theft keeps climbing

Victims of the crime are also losing more money and getting less of it back, research from Gartner shows.

The rate of identity theft-related fraud has risen sharply since 2003, a report from research firm Gartner suggests.

Gartner's study, released Tuesday, shows that from mid-2005 until mid-2006, about 15 million Americans were victims of fraud that stemmed from identity theft, an increase of more than 50 percent from the estimated 9.9 million in 2003.

It should be noted that the 2003 statistics and the mid-2006 statistics came from two different sources--and hence, two different statistical methodologies. The original 9.9 million figure came from the Federal Trade Commission, whereas the 15 million statistic is Gartner's own.

For its study, Gartner surveyed 5,000 U.S. adults who use the Internet. The research firm found that identity theft victims are losing more money and getting less of it back. The average loss of funds in a case of identity theft was $3,257 in 2006, up from $1,408 in 2005. Additionally, the average loss in the opening of a fraudulent new account has more than doubled over that time, from $2,678 to $5,962.

According to Gartner, identity theft victims are also recovering less of the lost cash. In 2005, an average of 87 percent of funds were recovered; in 2006, that had dropped to 61 percent.

Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner attributed the rise in identity theft fraud to increased levels of electronic identity theft.

"Hackers are exploiting Internet auctions, non-regulated money transmittal systems, the ability to impersonate lottery and sweepstake contests, and other types of imaginative scams," Gartner analyst Avivah Litan said in a statement.

However, the supposed rise in identity theft is a controversial claim. Last month, research firm Javelin Strategy & Research released a report that suggested certain identity-theft statistics--the number of fraudulent accounts opened, for example--are actually on the decline.

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