The current and future landscape of identity theft: Findings of the “Identity Theft and Nexus to Illicit Activity” team
Executive Summary. Identity theft (IDT) is a term describing multiple criminal activities that are underestimated, complex, and continuously changing. Surveys of individual victims have estimated IDT as affecting 11.5 million individuals, or 7% of the U.S. population, with total annual loss estimated at $21 billion in the United States.1 However, this figure is likely a gross underestimation as it captures only one aspect of IDT: individuals suffering financial loss. Indeed, the definition of IDT is often considered to be overly restrictive: it focuses solely on individual victims, typically requires financial loss, and neglects varieties of IDT emerging in the online environment. We propose an expanded definition of IDT that broadly reflects the current landscape: the unauthorized use of an individual’s or entity’s set of unique characteristics that define the individual or entity in order to conduct illicit activity. The impact and consequences of IDT are expected to be significantly higher with this expanded definition.
IDT crimes can be classified into discrete groups: crimes that target individuals and organizations for financial gain, and crimes that target individuals and organizations for a social or political goal. Having reviewed the current and anticipated trends in IDT, we offer recommendations that span implementing technological changes, updating industry standards, developing incentives for businesses that maintain security proactively, expanding international cooperation, and implementing educational initiatives.