Identity fraud rose 22 percent in 2008 from the year before, reaching the highest level since 2004, according to a report released on Monday by Javelin Research.
Of nearly 4,800 U.S. adults who were surveyed over the telephone, 482 said they had been victims of identity fraud, the report found.
"Almost 10 million Americans learned they were victims of identity fraud in 2008, up from 8.1 million victims in 2007," the report overview said. "More consumers are becoming victimized by this serious crime, reversing a previous trend in which identity fraud had been gradually decreasing. This makes sense because overall criminal activity tends to increase when there is a recession."
While the number of victims is up, the cost to consumers is down. The mean consumer cost of identity fraud dropped 31 percent from $718 to $496 per incident, the lowest level since 2005. The report attributes that decline to fraud being detected faster, lower fraud amounts accrued, and quicker resolution times as a result of industry efforts and consumer education.
Despite the headlines that phishing and hacking attacks get, most of the identity fraud still results from lost or stolen wallets, checkbooks, and credit cards, according to the report.
Lost or stolen wallets represented 43 percent of all incidents where the method of access was known. That compares with 19 percent that occurred during a transaction, 13 percent for theft by friends, employees, and family members, and 11 percent each for online theft and data breaches.
Also of note was that women were 26 percent more likely to be victims of identity fraud than men, Javelin Research said.