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Why ID Theft Complaints Are Higher In Arizona Than Most States

Identity theft complaints are on the rise.

A new report shows almost 500,000 people filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) last year about identity theft. That represents a 47 percent increase in ID theft complaints since the year before, according to the FTC.

The FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network data book was released March 1, 2016, and shows Arizona remains near the top of the list in complaints about identity theft. Arizona ranked number 14 in the country in identity theft complaints, with more than 9,100 complaints submitted in 2015.

That’s actually an improvement in the state’s ranking, though, according to Mark Pribish, vice president and ID theft practice leader at Merchants Information Solutions, Inc. in Phoenix. He helps companies manage data breaches.

Until recent years, Arizona had been No. 1 on the list for five years running, he said.

“I think we’re a very transient state,” he said. “We have a lot of people coming and going.”

Pribish said when we move, we move all of our furniture and valuables, but we also are transferring all of our personal information – to a new doctor, a new dentist, a new home and auto insurance agency.

Every time you start a new relationship like that, he said, you are, “trusting your former home and auto insurance agent that the name and social security number that he or she has on all family members is going to be safe and secure.”

That’s why he said it’s important to change passwords twice a year, avoid phishing emails and avoid over-sharing on social media.

When it comes to the big data breaches at large retailers that dominate the headlines, Pribish said those are not the reason most of us will have our identities stolen.

“The big part is because of the information we are sharing with our employers, our doctors, our home and auto insurance agent, our dentist, our tax preparation service providers, our banks,” he said. “Our information is out there, and when we make changes, when we change providers, when we move, we are adding a new database, new relationships, but what about all the old relationships and how safe and secure is that information?”

That’s why we see identity theft cases among young people whose parents share their information with employer after employer over the years, he said.

When he think about identity theft, we usually think about getting our credit card number stolen. But, Pribish said the FTC report shows that only about 25 percent of identity theft in 2015 was financial. Most identity theft is non-financial, he said – taxpayer identity theft and refund fraud, medical identity theft, or theft of credentials like driver’s licenses, passports and even employee or student ID’s.

“The No. 1 reason is what we call taxpayer ID theft and refund fraud,” he said. “It’s no coincidence. Seven, eight years ago most consumers in the U.S. started filing their taxes online, at the encouragement and recommendation of the U.S. federal government, the treasury. And, whether you’re using a tax preparation service or doing it yourself, the online tax preparation has been a contributor to what we call taxpayer ID theft and refund fraud.”

Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.