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Identity theft, credit card fraud on the rise

Credit card theft is on the rise, according to the latest crime estimates. Last year, about 8.6 million U.S. households, or 7 percent, experienced some form of identity theft, up from the 6.4 million that fell victim to identify thieves in 2005, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates.

The total financial losses for those households totaled $13.3 billion. In most cases, identity thieves obtained victims' existing credit card information, the bureau reported. The data includes both attempted and successful use of the stolen information. Although the number of identify theft cases increased, the study found that fewer households suffered a monetary loss in 2010. The estimates indicate that nearly a quarter of victims avoided a financial loss.

Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Identity Theft Reported by Households, 2005-2010"

The estimates are derived from the National Crime Victimization Survey conducted annually by the U.S. Census Bureau for the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Each year, the data is obtained from a sample of 76,000 households comprising nearly 135,300 people who mirror the demographic makeup of the country as a whole. From these responses, the Bureau of Justice Statistics can estimate the likelihood of victimization by identity theft or other crimes for the population as a whole, according to the bureau.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics defines identity theft as the unauthorized use or attempted misuse of an existing credit card or other account, the unauthorized use of personal information to open a new account or for other fraudulent purposes, or a combination of those.

On its website, the U.S. Justice Department describes a few of the ways in which criminals get access to personal information. They include digging through trash for documents with account and contact information, as well as taking advantage of transactions made by consumers in public places – for example, punching in a credit card number on a phone or laptop or providing it in a conversation with a hotel or rental car company.

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