November 1, 2006 - With oil and gas prices falling and interest rates holding steady, the Experian-Gallup Personal Credit Index increased one point to 86. With the price of oil under $60 a barrel, lower gas prices help put extra cash into consumers' pockets. However, with a deepening housing market slowdown and a falling manufacturing index, some experts argue the economic slowdown is beginning to gather speed. Additionally, the Experian-Gallup Personal Credit Index survey uncovered new information about fraud, one of the fastest growing crimes in America. More than 25% of consumers surveyed reported having their financial information or their personal information stolen, and an alarming number said they would take more steps to prevent a theft if they only knew what to do.
According to the Experian-Gallup Personal Credit Index survey, one in five consumers (19%) said they have had their financial information stolen, such as a bank account number or credit card number. Additionally, one in seven (14%) report having their personal information stolen, such as their Social Security number, driver's license or birth certificate. Combined, one in four (26%) American adults report being the victim of one or the other, while 7% report experiencing the theft of both their financial and personal information.
Surprisingly, seniors - who are often thought of as being the most vulnerable victims - reported the lowest incidence of fraud (16%), while consumers at virtually every other demographic level have been targeted. When asked about the impact of stolen financial or personal information, the survey revealed:
- Adults between the ages of 30-49 (30%)
- Females under age 50 (31%)
- College graduates (30%)
- Adults reporting annual household incomes of $75,000 or more (30%)
- Consumers residing in the Western region of the country (31%)
Overall, while 21% of victims reported they "knew who stole their information," adults under age 30 had the highest percentage of any demographic segment, at 42.
How victims become victims
People whose identities have been stolen - be it financial or personal - can spend months or years and thousands of dollars cleaning up their credit record. In the meantime, fraud victims may be refused mortgage loans, auto loans, student loans, job opportunities and more. According to the survey, consumers reporting financial or personal fraud had the following information stolen:
- 63% said they had unauthorized purchases against an existing credit card
- 55% reported they had purchases charged or money withdrawn from their checking account
- 39% said someone opened an account or engaged in a transaction using their personal information
- 22% claimed someone obtained a new credit card in their name
- 9% reported someone opened a new bank account in their name
"It won't happen to me" syndrome
Across the board, in all age and income groups, 87% of consumers said they were aware of news stories reporting individuals' financial information being lost or stolen, and just 12% said they haven't seen or heard any news at all. However, when consumers were asked about the likelihood that they would become a victim, the study found:
- 57% of consumers reported "it is unlikely that they would become victims of fraud"
- 34% of consumers think "there is nothing they can do" to prevent fraud
- 70% of consumers said "they would take more steps to prevent fraud if they knew what to do"
How consumers are fighting back
While not everyone feels helpless, the survey uncovered how consumers are fighting back:
- 84% said they shred sensitive financial information or credit card offers
- 51% reported purchasing anti-hacking software to protect their computer privacy
- 46% claimed they keep track of any changes in their credit reports by purchasing credit reports on a regular basis
- 25% reported purchasing a credit monitoring product which alerts them to any activity on their credit report
- 14% said they pay for identity theft insurance
While fraud appears to affect virtually every consumer demographic segment in the country, it's more important than ever for consumers of all ages and at all income levels to take extra precautions to protect themselves and their families.
About the Experian-Gallup Personal Credit Index
The Experian-Gallup Personal Credit Index is based on a monthly nationwide survey of households and measures four key areas related to credit: level of debt, monthly payment burden, credit rating and debt extension capability. The sampling included more than 3,000 adults, 18 and over, randomly selected from across the country. The survey's margin of error is +/- 2%.