Key findings: The number of people who experience identity crime or misuse each year appears to be rising. The proportion of Australians who report being a victim of identity crime is significantly higher than other personal and theft-related offences. Key finding: Identity crime is significantly underreported by both individual victims and organisations. Recent research indicates that half of credit card fraud victims and a third of identity theft victims did not report the incident to a formal institution, such as law enforcement or a financial organisation.
Recent identity crime survey data
As part of the pilot, AGD and DFAT commissioned the AIC to undertake a survey on the rate of identity crime victimisation among the Australian community. The AIC Survey sought to build on other recent identity crime survey research conducted by the ABS (2008 and 2012) and AGD (2011 and 2012a). The headline findings from each of these surveys are presented in Figure 18. In general, findings indicate that around four to five percent of respondents experienced identity crime in the previous 12 months, of which a large proportion was identity fraud (mostly credit card fraud).
Figure 18: Proportion of respondents reporting identity crime victimisation or misuse of personal information, by survey and year
* Includes credit card fraud.
Note: The AGD surveys asked respondents about their victimisation in the previous six months, whereas the reference period in the other surveys was 12 months.
Source: ABS 2008 & 2012; AGD 2011 & 2012; Smith & Hutchings 2014.
Differences in the headline victimisation rate between the surveys is likely due to the different sampling methodologies, data collection techniques employed, and focus of questions asked of respondents.
The AIC Survey adopted a broader definition of ‘identity misuse’ than those conducted by the ABS (2008 and 2012) and AGD (2011 and 2012a), which focussed primarily on identity crime. The AIC Survey asked participants whether they had experienced misuse of their personal information in the previous 12 months, whereas the scope of the ABS questions was more specific2. The AGD surveys asked participants whether their identity information had been stolen or misused in the previous six months or so.
The AIC Survey and another survey conducted by the OAIC on community attitudes to privacy also provide an indication of the lifetime prevalence of identity crime amongst Australians (see Figure 19).
Figure 19: Proportion of survey respondents reporting having ever been a victim of identity theft or misuse, by survey
Source: Smith & Hutchings 2014; OAIC 2013b
The highlights of the various Australian identity crime surveys conducted in recent years suggest that:
between four and five percent of people are victims of identity crime that results in a financial loss each year
around 9.4 percent of people may experience some form of misuse of their personal information, including identity crime, per year
between 13 and 21 percent of people have experienced identity crime or misuse at some point in their life
the majority of identity crime victims, perhaps around nine in 10, experience credit card fraud, or other less serious frauds, and in around half of these cases they are reimbursed by a financial institution
a small but significant proportion of victims, perhaps around one in 10, experience more serious cases of identity theft which involved considerable financial and other consequences.
Similar surveys conducted in the United States and the United Kingdom produced broadly comparable findings. The most recent Identity Theft Supplement to the National Crime Victimisation Survey (NCVS) conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in the United States found that 16.6 million people (7% of the population aged 16 years or older) were victims of one or more incidents of identity theft in 2012, with 85 percent involving the fraudulent use of financial information such as credit cards or bank account details (Harrell & Langton 2013). A 2012 survey by the then National Fraud Authority in the United Kingdom found that 4.3 million adults (8.8% of the population) had been a victim of identity fraud in the previous 12 months, with 27 percent reporting that they had been a victim at some point in their life (NFA 2013; 30).
ABS survey data in Figure 20 shows that in 2012–13 an estimated three percent of Australians aged 15 years and over (498,000 people) were victims of assault, 2.7 percent of households (239,700 households) were victims of at least one break-in to their home, garage or shed, 0.4 percent (65,700 people) were victims of robbery, and 0.6 percent of households had their motor vehicle stolen (57,200 incidents) (ABS 2014a).
This indicates that identity crime is one of the most prevalent crimes affecting Australians each year, in that a greater proportion of people report being a victim of identity crime than assault, robbery, household break-ins or motor vehicle theft.
Despite the apparent prevalence of identity crime, it is highly likely that the full extent of this crime type is not being captured due to underreporting, with only around 40-60 percent of identity crime victims lodging a formal report about the incident to a government agency or private sector organisation.
Recent research by the ABS has shown that half of credit card fraud victims and one third of identity theft victims did not report the incident to a formal institution, such as law enforcement or a financial institution (ABS 2012).
The AIC Survey results show that only around two in five people reported the incident formally, while just over half only told a friend or family member (see Figure 21).
Figure 21: Reporting experience of identity crime and misuse, by type of report