PORTLAND, Maine — Identity theft affects more Mainers than any other crime, according to a survey released Tuesday, but few victims ever report it to police.
More than half the respondents to the 2015 Maine Crime Victimization Survey, published by the Maine Statistical Analysis Center a unit of the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service, had been the victim of a crime in past 12 months, while only 23 percent of victims ever file a police report.
Thirty-six percent of respondents had been the victim of identity theft, more than property crime (15 percent), stalking (14 percent) and violent crime (4 percent). Identity theft includes the unauthorized use of bank accounts and credit cards, as well as the misuse of personal information, such as dates of birth and Social Security numbers.
“One of the things that our findings demonstrate is what’s happening nationally has implications here,” George Shaler, a research associate at the Muskie School of Public Service and one of the survey’s authors, said. “This type of crime touches a lot of people in Maine.”
The high rate of identity theft among respondents was partially attributed to the frequency of massive data breaches that have hit some of the largest companies in the U.S., including Target, Home Depot and JP Morgan Chase, and even government agencies, such as the federal Office of Personnel Management, compromising millions of Americans banking and personal information. Breaches affecting Anthem and T-Mobile exposed the personal information of 531,000 and 12,000 Mainers, respectively.
Jane Carpenter, founder of Maine Identity Services and an eight-year veteran of the Consumer Protection Division of the Maine attorney general’s office, said the survey’s findings indicate that identity theft has become “systemic.”
“The threat of identity theft and cybercrime now affects how we transact business, how we receive medical treatment and even how countries wage war,” Carpenter said.
Older respondents — those in cohorts over the age of 24 — were significantly more likely to be victims of identity theft (36 percent) than those ages 18 to 24 (23 percent). As Maine’s population continues to age in the coming years, Shaler said identity theft for this reason should garner more attention as older adults are more likely to be victims.
The survey suggests that identity theft is more common among older respondents because they have more financial resources than their younger counterparts. A household with an income of more than $100,000 per year had a rate of identity theft victimization (52 percent) twice that of a household with an income of less than $25,000 (25 percent).
With identity theft affecting a growing percentage of Mainers, fewer than one in 10 ever report the crime to police. Victims still report identity theft, but they often deal directly with their banks and card holders to resolve identity theft instead of drawing in the police, Carpenter said.
“People don’t realize they should file a police report,” she added. “People feel as though it’s taken care of.”
“Unfortunately, this type of criminal activity shows no signs of letting up,” she said. “I think we’ll be seeing the affects of these data breaches for a year or two.”
The good news is that overall the survey suggests Mainers feel at ease in their communities. More than 90 percent of respondents felt safe where they lived, while 69 percent thought police were doing a good job in their communities.
Among the victims of crime, however, this feeling of safety was lower (88 percent) than those who were not victimized in the last 12 months (94 percent). Crime victims also were less confident in police (64 percent) than those who have not been victimized in the last year (75 percent). For victims of violent and property crimes, those rates are even lower.
One in five respondents felt crime had increased in the last three years. Income, the survey found, made a difference in whether a respondent felt crime had increased over the last three years, with 29 percent of those who make less than $25,000 per year thought crime had risen compared with 12 percent for those making more than $100,000.
Between 2011 and 2014, the Maine Department of Public Safety reports crime fell 20 percent.
A majority of respondents (79 percent) felt illegal drugs were a major contributor to crime in Maine. They also felt exposure to domestic violence in the home (65 percent), lack of parental discipline (61 percent), alcohol (59 percent) and poverty (59 percent) contributed to crime.
The Maine Statistical Analysis Center conducts the survey to provide a better understanding of victimization trends in Maine to inform law enforcement and policy makers in their efforts to reduce crime and improve services to victims. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics conducts annually a national crime victimization survey, but its results cannot be analyzed at the state level. Maine is one of 14 states to administer its own survey.
It is based on phone conversations with 843 Mainers age 18 or older from December 2014 to February 2015.
Not all findings can be compared to prior surveys because of the addition of new victimization categories for stalking and identity theft. This is the third crime victimization survey the Maine Statistical Analysis Center has released since 2006.