It’s no secret that the battle against identity theft is still an ongoing fight, with 690 large-scale data breaches so far in 2015 and an increase in crimes like tax refund fraud.
But what may surprise many consumers—especially in this era of zero-boundary internet connectivity—is that their risk of becoming a victim may be impacted by where they physically live. WalletHub conducted a study based on nine different metrics that sought to determine how susceptible the citizens of each state and the District of Columbia are to identity theft and fraud. The report, which ranked the states in order from lowest susceptibility to highest, uncovered some surprising results.
The metrics, which were based on the number of reported incidents per 100,000 people in the state’s population, included the total number of identity theft complaints, government documents or benefits fraud complaints, credit card fraud complaints, phone or utilities fraud complaints, bank fraud complaints, employment fraud complaints, total cybercrime-related dollar losses, credit-card fraud rate change, and the total number of data breaches.
South Dakota topped the list as the least vulnerable place to live for identity theft-related crimes. Unfortunately, Washington, DC—what is arguably one of the most data-sensitive locations in the US, but that was hit hard by the Office of Personnel Management data breach—ranked as the most susceptible to identity theft and fraud.
The report also examined the state-by-state breakdown for each of the types of identity theft crime that it surveyed. Florida and Washington, DC, were in the top five for every type of this crime, except one; while they tied for third place with one other state for having the highest total reported cases of identity theft, they made the top five for credit card fraud, government benefits fraud, phone/utilities fraud, and bank fraud. The only category where Florida and DC did not make the top five was in employment fraud, whose top spots included New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, California, and Arizona. Ironically, the seat of the nation’s government held the number one position for the most reported cases of government documents and benefits fraud cases.
But what do the experts who contributed to this report have to say about preventing this kind of crime? Plenty. Their top piece of advice concerns one of the most overlooked security issues, and that’s your email address. By putting priority emphasis on protecting your email—doing things like having a strong, unique password on your email account and making sure you’re not falling for phishing scams or hacked messages—you can do a lot to protect yourself from identity theft. The experts also recommended monitoring your credit report routinely either on your own or through a credit monitoring service, as well as leveraging the power of fraud alerts on all of your accounts.