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ID Theft Is Exploding In The U.S.

Identity theft is exploding in the U.S., with 15 million Americans victimized in just a 12-month period, according to a new study.

The amount of money that is being stolen from them is on the rise, as well, more than doubling between 2005 and 2006, Gartner analysts report in a study. And more of what they're losing is staying lost. The report also shows that people managed to recover 87% of what was stolen from them back in 2005, but in 2006 that number dropped to 61%.

"Hackers are exploiting Internet auctions, non-regulated money transmittal systems, the ability to impersonate lottery and sweepstake contests, and other types of imaginative scams," said Avivah Litan, a VP at Gartner, in a written statement. "The thieves have also discovered the weakest links in the U.S. payments systems. Typically the weak links are found among the five or more million businesses that accept electronic payments from consumers, and the consumers themselves."

Gartner's survey of 5,000 online U.S. adults in August 2006 showed that the rate of identity theft has jumped by 50% since 2003 when the Federal Trade Commission reported that 9.9 million Americans had been victimized. The average loss was $3,257 in 2006, up from $1,408 in 2005.

Unauthorized charges to credit cards rose nearly fourfold from an average of $734 in 2005 to $2,550 in 2006, Gartner reports. These numbers go along with a trend cited by various U.S. credit card issuers that reported large increases in counterfeit card fraud last year. Similarly, there were large increases in checking account transfer fraud and "other" non-categorized types of fraud, such as scams exploiting eBay, PayPal and phone companies.

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