January 2009 Archives

Stalking and Harassment

See the latest study on the national incidence and prevalence of stalking and harassment from the perspective of victims. This BJS study has taken on very difficult definition and measurement issues and come up with estimates for the year 2005.

Table 4 shows the numerical distribution of stalking and harassment and the gender characteristics of victims and perceived offenders. This table is percentaged in the wrong direction if you want to know the likelihood of stalking by offender gender. Of course the unit of observation is the victim and not offender, but looking at the data in another way can give us insight into stalking.

Repercentaging the table for cases in which there was a known gender of offender (n=3,033,434), we find that approximately 17.8% of the (2,060,779) male offenders stalked male victims and approximately 82.2% stalked female victims. In contrast, only about 38.8% of (972,655) female offenders stalked males and about 61.2% of female offenders stalked females. Thus, both males and females are more likely to stalk females than they are to stalk males.

Identity Theft - New and Recent Data

Click here to listen to this entry as a podcast.

Along with enormous popular interest in the topic, and focused web sites (e.g., The Identity Theft Resource Center), we now have two nationally representative data sets on identity theft in the United States. For the first time, the National Crime Victim Survey (NCVS) asked questions of U.S. citizens to determine whether they discovered whether they have been the victim of identity theft, variously defined, during the past six months. The data are displayed in the table below, which shows that 3.1% of U.S. households had discovered some form of identity theft during the six months preceding their 2004 interview:


As you can see in the table, identity theft most often involves the misuse of a credit card (one and a half percent of U.S. households). The next highest amount (eight tenths of one percent of U.S. households) involves the misuse of information to open other accounts (such as a checking account) or commit other crimes. Finally, a total of four tenths of one percent of U.S. households experienced multiple types of theft during the same episode.

The victims of identity theft as defined above are more likely in households with an income of seventy-five thousand dollars or more; where the age of the head of household is younger (age 18-24); and in nonrural areas. Two-thirds of households reporting identity theft did not report any problems as a result of the discovery, but a third did report problems: in order of frequency (most first): contact by a debt collector or creditor; banking problems; problems with credit card accounts; had to pay higher interest rates; denied phone or utility service; and others. While many instances of identity theft were resolved within a day, others took weeks or months to resolve; thefts of personal information took longer to resolve.

This study estimates that identity theft in the study period resulted in $3.2 billion in losses (although any reimbursed losses, such as insurance payoffs, were not calculated in this total). Some households experienced big hits (1 in 20 households reporting any monetary loss indicate that they lost $5,000 or more) but the median among households reporting $1 or more in losses was $400.

The Federal Trade Commission had its own nationally representative study conducted on identity theft, which was published in 2003. Using a different procedure for sampling, this study finds, similar to the BJS study above, that the percentage of survey respondents experiencing various forms of identity theft totalled 4.6 percent in the past year. It also finds that 12.7 percent of respondents reported being victims of identity theft over the past five years. A helpful table from p. 5 of that report is shown below. See the full report for details.


So there you have it. In the old days (i.e., before the term 'identity theft' was coined and applied to crime) credit card fraud was called credit card fraud, or check forgery, or something similar, but we didn't call either identity theft. Today the media, insurance companies, spammers, and other fear mongers have gotten a hold of 'identity theft' and and run with it to create one of the biggest fears of propertied and even non-propertied people whose vital information is fraudulently used for gain by others. This has a lot of consequences, not the least of which is insecurity and fear of random victimization in the face of old wine in new bottles.

The New York Times recently ran an article by Eric Dash, "Protectors, Too, Gather Profits From ID Theft," which notes that:

"It is not just criminals who are profiting from identity theft; financial institutions are making money, too. Fear of identity theft has helped give rise to a nearly billion-dollar business in credit-monitoring services sold by the major credit bureaus...as well as direct marketers and banks.
"Javelin Strategy and Research, which analyzes the credit-monitoring market, says more than 12 million Americans are now subscribers."
Also, check out this statement:
"Identity theft is the number one consumer crime in America, and still growing rapidly. Many employers are beginning to realize that identity theft protection can be a highly valuable addition to an employee benefits program, and The Identity Guardian has been developed to respond to that need. Recent surveys indicate that identity theft is at the top of the list of financial concerns of Americans, especially for professionals, who have more exposure and more to lose."

In any event, a challenge to BJS will be to figure out how to separate or include identity theft within existing categories of theft in the NCVS. Was it included in these statistics before, implicitly or explicitly? Is it included now? What will the future hold? We hope that thinkers about this matter will not turn their backs on it as they have for arson.

Hopefully, the existance of these data, and the legacy of fraud by whatever means, will be enough to respond to some claims by myth-makers who spread falsehoods about identity theft. The consequences of the less prevalent kinds of identity theft are severe enough without blending credit card or check fraud into the mix.

Addendum: most recently Tiversa claims to have data indicating that there has been a dramatic increase in identity theft from 2007-2008. (See their report here.) This is a fascinating claim. The database and technology used to generate the data are not clear and one should hesitate in jumping to conclusions based on these data.

Health Care of Prisoners

The Health and Health Care of US Prisoners: A Nation wide Survey, from the American Journal of Public Health, is the first study of prison and jail inmates health across the country. Not surprisingly, it shows high levels of serious illness and little available health care. The data were analyzed by researchers from Cambridge and Harvard for 2002 and 2004. Of the two million inmates, around forty percent (40%) report a chronic medical problem like asthma, diabetes, or ongoing heart or kidney problems. Their illness rate is thus much higher than free citizens of a similar age. A fifth of state prison inmates had not seen a doctor or nurse since being locked up; fully sixty-eight percent (68%) of sick jail inmates had not gotten nurse or doctor attention.

The problems of mentally ill offenders are equally sad, but incarceration appears to coincide with the pattern of existing mentally ill persons not receiving care to get something after incarceration. See the more recent post, "Mental Illness: What Hath Been Wrought."

These findings are disturbing but not surprising and serve as baseline information for development of public policy to address these issues.

Bernard Madoff

Scott Burns is a financial advisor who has compared Bernard Madoff's 50 billon "Largest Theft in History" to all property crime reported to the Uniform Crime Reports for a few years. Enjoy his down-to-earth online article, which concludes with his answer to the question, "how can the punishment possibly be fit to the crime?"

After that, proceed to his followup article, "Bernard Madoff and the Full-Time Equivalent of Murder," which summarizes the thousands of responses he received from readers on what an appropriate punishment should be.

Teachers in criminology may want to use these articles to frame a discussion of proportionality or to study historically how classical theorists struggled (unsuccessfully) with issues of equivalency or proportionality.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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