WI21-11: Consequences and Response to Identity Theft Victimization among Older Americans



Society’s growing reliance on technology to transfer and store private information has created new opportunities for financial predators to access and misuse personal data. Even routine, mandatory interactions with government (e.g., filing taxes) and healthcare systems (e.g., electronic health records) increasingly involve the online transfer and storage of highly identifiable information like social security and bank account numbers.

Our prior work using data from 2012 and 2014 Identity Theft Supplement (ITS) of the National Crime Victimization Survey showed that baby boomers were significantly more likely than other age groups to be victims of identity theft (Burnes, DeLiema, & Langton, 2020). Results from the most recent 2016 ITS show that older adults suffered an estimated $2.5 billion in financial losses (Harrell, 2019), which may be particularly harmful to financially insecure seniors.

The present study uses nationally representative data from the combined 2014 and 2016 ITS that sampled 43,220 adults aged 65 and older. More than six percent (N=2,676) were victims of some form of identity theft in the previous year. Our aim is to examine relationships between socioeconomic status (SES) and the financial and psychological consequences of identity theft victimization. We predict that high SES is associated with greater losses among older adults, but that those with low SES experience more severe emotional distress and are less likely to report the incident to authorities. No prior studies have examined these outcomes specifically among older adults, nor determined how age and socioeconomic status relate to reporting decisions.


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