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ID theft in New York surged 85% in 2020 amid pandemic, DiNapoli says

A surge in identity theft in New York

A surge in identity theft in New York has been attributed in part to the pandemic, which provided opportunities for scammers and con artists, according to a report by State Comproller Thomas P. DiNapoli. Credit: Getty Images / Westend61

Complaints of identity theft surged to record levels during the pandemic, with more than 67,000 allegations filed statewide in 2020, a jump of 85% from the year prior and quadruple the amount from a decade earlier, according to a report released Thursday by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

The metropolitan area, which includes Long Island and New York City's five boroughs, had the highest rate of identity theft reported to the Federal Trade Commission at 403 cases per 100,000 people, the report found.

What to know

  • More New Yorkers fell victim to identity theft in 2020.
  • Even when no money is stolen, consumers can face dire consequences from the theft of personal information.
  • Steps to protect against ID theft include carrying limited number of credit cards, stronger online security and frequently changing passwords.

"In the midst of the stresses caused by the pandemic, many New Yorkers also dealt with identity theft last year," DiNapoli said. "Even when there’s no money stolen, resolving the consequences of stolen personal information is complicated and can take months of effort. Often the pain is really felt later, when victims have trouble getting a job, renting an apartment or getting a loan because their identity was stolen."

Credit card fraud was the most common type of identity theft, with nearly 25,000 New Yorkers telling the FTC that someone had misused their information on an existing account or to open a new account, the report found.

Nearly 16,000 New Yorkers reported their identity had been stolen through their email, social media, insurance, medical services, online shopping or investment accounts, the comptroller found. The state also saw major spikes in reports of identity thefts related to loans, leases, debit cards and other bank accounts.

The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have provided an opportunity for scammers and con artists, the report found.

Residents across the state filed more than 3,600 identity theft complaints related to the pandemic, the data shows. Once personal or financial information is obtained, thieves typically use the victims’ identity to fraudulently apply for COVID-19 benefit programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program or for unemployment insurance, investigators said.

"When this occurs, victims may be prevented from legitimately receiving such benefits themselves," the report found. "Fraudsters also may attempt to leverage victims’ fears by asking them to pay out of pocket to get a COVID-19 vaccine or to put their name on a vaccine waiting list and, in the process, obtain Social Security, bank account or credit card information."

As of late April 2021, the state Department of Labor said it identified more than 1.1 million fraudulent unemployment benefit claims during the pandemic, preventing $12.3 billion in stolen benefits.

While reports of identity theft have spiked, arrests and convictions declined.

Law enforcement made 543 arrests and obtained 201 convictions connected to reports of identity theft from April 2019 through the end of March 2020 — each the lowest totals in the past decade, according to the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services. The report said it's not immediately clear what caused the decline.

Nassau ranked third-highest in the state for identity theft arrests with 49 — behind Manhattan and Brooklyn — while it topped the state with 29 convictions. Suffolk ranked eighth in the state with 9 convictions, the data shows.

Across the nation, about 70% of identity theft victims suffered financial losses totaling $15.1 billion in 2018, or about $640 per person, according to the most recently available Justice Department data. With New York representing about 5% of identity theft reports nationwide, the costs to residents would total about $750 million, DiNapoli's report concluded.

Data shows that identity theft victims are more likely to be women, white and between the ages of 35 and 64, according to the report. Only 7% of identity-theft victims reported the incident to police, but 88% contacted a credit card company or bank to report the incident.

To prevent becoming a victim of identity theft, DiNapoli recommends carrying a limited number of credit or bank cards, using a two-factor authentication for online security, changing passwords frequently and regularly checking bank and credit card statements.

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