Risk and protective factors of identity theft victimization in the United States

David Burnes, Marguerite DeLiema, Lynn Langton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Identity theft victimization is associated with serious physical and mental health morbidities. The problem is expanding as society becomes increasingly reliant on technology to store and transfer personally identifying information. Guided by lifestyle-routine activity theory, this study sought to identify risk and protective factors associated with identity theft victimization and determine whether individual-level behaviors, including frequency of online purchasing and data protection practices, are determinative of victimization. Data from sequential administrations of the U.S. National Crime Victimization Survey–Identity Theft Supplement (ITS) in 2012 and 2014 were combined (N = 128,419). Using multivariable logistic regression, risk and protective factors were examined for three subtypes: 1) unauthorized use of existing credit card/bank accounts, and unauthorized use of personal information to 2) open new accounts, or 3) engage in instrumental activities (e.g., applying for government benefits, receiving medical care, filing false tax returns). Existing credit card/bank accounts and new accounts identity theft victimization were associated with higher levels of online purchasing activity and prior identity theft victimization. All identity theft subtypes were associated with government/corporate data breaches and other crime victimization experiences. Routine individual-level preventive behaviors such as changing online passwords and shredding/destroying documents were protective. Identity theft subtypes showed divergent socio-demographic risk/protective profiles, with those of higher socioeconomic status more likely to be victims of existing credit card/bank account identity theft. Identity theft is a pervasive, growing problem with serious health and psychosocial consequences, yet individuals can engage in specific protective behaviors to mitigate victimization risk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101058
JournalPreventive Medicine Reports
StatePublished - Mar 2020

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  • Identity theft victimization
  • Protective factors
  • Risk factors
  • United States


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