One in 33 homes experience ID theft

About 3 percent of the nation's households were victims of identity theft during a six-month period in 2004, losing about $3.2 billion to fraudsters, the U.S. Justice Department announced Sunday.

Forty-eight percent of the estimated 3.6 million victims experienced unauthorized use of credit cards, 25 percent had other accounts – such as banking – used without permission, 15 percent had other personal information misused and 12 percent experienced multiple forms of identity theft at the same time, according to a news release issued by the department's Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The most likely victims were households headed by people ages 18 to 24, those living in urban or suburban areas and those with incomes of $75,000 or more, the release said. Race and ethnicity were not a factor.

About two-thirds of the victims lost money, an average of $1,290, according to the Justice Department. Some of the households continue to be hit with losses, while one-quarter said the fraud has stopped.

The announcement comes just three days after the Federal Trade Commission told a U.S. House subcommittee that the agency is taking steps to prevent identity theft.

Joel Winston cited the FTC's recently established Division of Privacy and Identity Protection, which he heads.

"The FTC serves a key role as the central repository for identity theft complaints, facilitates criminal law enforcement in detecting and prosecuting identity thieves and provides extensive victim assistance and consumer education," he said.

Measures in place include a toll-free hotline – (877) ID-THEFT – that provides information each week to about 15,000 to 20,000 people who are concerned about identity theft. The FTC also has led an initiative to create consumer education materials.

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