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Survey: ID theft hard to shake off

A quarter of Americans who fall victim to identity theft find it a struggle to put things right again, according to a recent survey.

One in four Americans who fall victim to identity theft find it a struggle to clear their name, according to a recent survey.

Twenty-eight percent of victims have been unsuccessful in restoring their reputations, despite trying for more than a year on average, the Nationwide Mutual Insurance said in a report released Tuesday. The survey, which polled close to 1,100 victims, indicated that people spend an average of 81 hours working to resolve their cases.

"The survey shows that recovering from identity theft can be difficult, costly and stressful, but what is most alarming is that despite the time, money and personal duress victims go through, resolution is not always achieved," Kirk Herath, an associate general counsel at Nationwide Mutual, said in a statement.

More than half of all victims discovered the identity fraud themselves after noticing fraudulent credit card charges or withdrawn funds, the report indicated. It took respondents an average of five-and-a-half months after the first incident to discover the crime. Just 17 percent were notified by a creditor or bank of suspicious activity on their account.

The average sum of charges made to victims' accounts as a result of identity theft was $3,968, according to the survey. While most respondents were not held liable for the charges, 16 percent report that they had to shoulder some or all of the cost. Forty percent of respondents listed police, banks or credit issuers as difficult to work with when attempting to resolve the problem.

The high-tech industry is increasingly in the crosshairs of the identity theft debate. That's because vulnerable computer systems at some major companies have recently exposed hundreds of thousands of consumers to possible data theft. Security breaches have been reported by data processor CardSystems Solutions, Citigroup's consumer finance unit CitiFinancial, Bank of America and Wachovia, data brokers ChoicePoint and LexisNexis, and the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford University.

Although the industry claims that a small percentage of identity theft cases begin online, a separate survey indicates such incidents are starting to dent the confidence of online shoppers. Three out of four Web shoppers told Gartner that they are more cautious about where they buy goods online, while a third report buying fewer items than they would otherwise because of security concerns.

In another survey by The Conference Board, 54 percent of online consumers said they more concerned about the security of their personal data now than they were a year ago.