Study: Americans Willing to Pay for Gov't I.D. Theft Prevention

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Identity theft robs about 8 million Americans annually, with the average out-of-pocket loss creeping up to $631 per incident in 2010. Americans are fed up with this fraud, and willing to pay higher taxes to help the government cut it out of their lives, according to a new study from Florida State University.

By examining taxpayer attitudes about I.D. theft and the government’s role in combating it in four states (llinois, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Washington), the study found that people would pay up to $87 each for the government to establish an I.D. theft protection program.

The criminologists from Florida State University who authored the study say that 75% of the 2,300 participants were willing to pay for a government program that would reduce I.D. theft by 75%, even though no such program is currently in place; 40% said they would even pay more taxes to fund an I.D. theft protection program that cut consumer fraud by only 25%.

The individual tab for identity theft clocks in at between $2,800 and $5,100, say the researchers. Total losses related to I.D. theft, as estimated by the Federal Trade Commission (and cited in the FSU report) reach up to $42 billion annually in the U.S. Looking at the last 10 years, the damage done by consumer I.D. fraud rose to “hundreds of billions of dollars,” said the study.

According to the study’s leader, Nicole Leeper Piquero, an associate professor at the Florida State University College of Criminology and Criminal Justice, becoming a victim of identity theft may be inevitable for Americans.

“Identity theft has affected between 5% and 25% of U.S. households,” Piquero says. “Because of our increasing reliance on technology, and given the resourcefulness of hard-to-catch identity thieves, it seems likely that most, if not all, of us will at some point be victims of this crime, or know others that have been.”

To arrive at its $87 figure, the survey used two potential models that would hypothetically reduce I.D. theft by either 75% or 25%. Based on participants’ responses, the study authors calculated that most survey respondents were willing to pay anywhere between $50 and $200 for a fraud-fighting program. The $87 figure came from an average of all responses.

Researchers suggest that government officials take heed of these findings, especially since consumers are willing to pay to help make that happen.

“Given the cost estimates associated with identity theft, a benefit-cost analysis might be useful to policymakers faced with making tough choices among an array of programs in a period of limited resources,” says co-author Alex Piquero.

Public and private fraud-fighting operations are already in place, particularly at the FBI, the Secret Service and at private think tanks like the Identity Theft Resource Center. But Americans, some of whom have been stung personally by I.D. theft, want more – and are willing to pay a price to get it.

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