The Identity Theft Resource Center reported that identity crimes grew 36% from 2020 to 2021. This data included reports from over 15,000 people and looked at crimes involving government benefits, scams, and social media breaches. Since 2015, the rate of identity crimes has increased by 49%.

This research is similar to data collected by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which received reports of 5.9 million scams in 2021—a 20% increase from 2020. The exact number of crimes committed may vary, but all the data points to a growing problem with identity theft.

It’s often assumed that older Americans are the most common victims of fraud, but data from the FTC shows that isn’t always the case. Over 40% of fraud victims were between the ages of 20 and 29, while 18% were between the ages of 70 and 79.

However, when individuals over the age of 70 did lose money, their losses tended to be much higher. The median loss for individuals between the ages of 70 and 79 was $800. For individuals over 80, the median loss was $1,500.

The pandemic spurred many identity crimes, with consumers losing $886 million in fraud related to COVID-19. With so many people unemployed due to the pandemic, unemployment scams reached an all-time high.

Criminals would steal personal information from consumers to file for unemployment benefits. Unemployment compensation is taxable, so many consumers didn’t learn about the scam until tax season.

In addition, social media scams also increased in 2021. These crimes usually involved scammers taking over an individual’s personal account and using that account to post about a fake charity. When that person’s followers donated to the fake charity, the scammers would gain access to their personal information.

How to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

The number of identity crimes continues to rise, but there are simple steps you can take to protect yourself:

  • Don’t give out personal information: Scammers often trick consumers by calling and posing as bank employees or IRS agents. However, no legitimate organization will ever call you and ask for sensitive information over the phone. Make it a habit never to give out personal information like your bank account number or Social Security Number.
  • Use multi-factor authentication: One of the best ways to protect your online accounts is by enabling multi-factor authentication. That way, even if a scammer figures out your password, they have to take an additional step to log into your account.
  • Choose a strong password: Another way to protect yourself is by choosing a strong password with a combination of upper- and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. It’s a good idea to change your passwords regularly, and don’t use one password for all your accounts.

Monitor your credit report: Finally, you want to monitor your credit report regularly. That way, if you notice suspicious activity, you can act quickly and prevent the problem from escalating.