Online fraud cases, including identity theft, have hit all-time highs in recent years — which means you're likely more at risk than ever of having your personal information targeted by hackers or other bad actors.
Consumers filed more than 5.7 million fraud reports with the Federal Trade Commission last year, including nearly 1.4 million reports of identity theft. Those same consumers reported losing more than $5.8 billion to fraud last year, an increase of 70% from 2020.
Online fraudsters can seek you out anywhere, but identity theft and fraud are more prevalent in some states than others. That's according to a new report from personal finance website WalletHub, which ranks all 50 U.S. states and Washington D.C. based on how frequently their residents are victimized by identity theft and fraud crimes — and how much money they've lost to fraud, on average.
Here are the country's seven most vulnerable places for identity theft and fraud, according to the report:
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- Washington D.C.
- Rhode Island
Washington D.C. tops the list as the place with the most online fraud and identity theft. According to the report, D.C. had a particularly high number of fraud complaints per capita last year: 1,701 complaints per 100,000 residents, based on Federal Trade Commission statistics.
Rhode Island topped the rankings for the most identity theft complaints per capita: 2,857 reports per 100,000 residents in 2021, according to the FTC data. That's compared to just 76 reports per 100,000 residents in South Dakota, the lowest number recorded by the FTC.
On the other end of the spectrum, WalletHub ranked Montana as the state where residents were least affected by identity theft and fraud last year after the state recorded the second-fewest identity theft complaints per capita in 2021.
To compile its rankings, WalletHub says it judged each state and district based on 14 "key metrics." The rankings give the most weight to the number of identity theft and fraud complaints per capita, as well as the average losses for the victims of those complaints.
The report also takes into account the number of arrests for fraud in each state in 2021, and each state's data disposal laws and state resources dedicated to cybersecurity task forces.
WalletHub relied on data from the FTC, Internet Crime Complaint Center, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Experian Information Solutions and National Conference of State Legislatures.
A pandemic-inspired uptick in fraud
The Covid-19 pandemic helped to spur an uptick in identity theft and fraud cases, many of which originated on social media platforms, the FTC has previously noted.
And while social media scams are on the rise, the most common way scammers engaged potential fraud victims last year was still by phone, with those victims also reporting losing $1,200 on average, according to the FTC. That's three times the average amount lost to social media scams.
You can take some clear steps to reduce a scammer's opportunities to steal your personal and financial information.
Experts suggest using stronger and more unique passwords to protect your online accounts. You might even consider enabling multi-factor authentication and using a password manager app that securely stores all of your passwords and can only be accessed by a single master password.
But your best tool for avoiding fraudsters is awareness, hacker-turner-security-consultant Kevin Mitnick told CNBC Make It in October.
Be vigilant in looking out for potential scammers. Only click a link or provide sensitive information over the phone if you're absolutely sure the person or entity on the other end is legitimate. If you're unsure, visit that organization's official website or call their official phone number to verify.
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