Cases of identity theft increased by 85 percent in New York last year, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said this week.
In a report released Thursday, DiNapoli said 67,000 complaints in New York were filed with the Federal Trade Commission last year.
The most affected part of the state was the New York City metropolitan area, where 403 reports were filed per 100,000 residents.
While the comptroller said that only about 3,600 of those reports were related to COVID-19, he said the increased activity only made the pandemic harder to deal with.
“In the midst of the stresses caused by the pandemic, many New Yorkers also dealt with identity theft last year,” DiNapoli said.
“Even when there’s no money stolen, resolving the consequences of stolen personal information is complicated and can take months of effort. Often the pain is really felt later, when victims have trouble getting a job, renting an apartment, or getting a loan because their identity was stolen.”
Other areas that saw significant activity were the Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown area, with 315 reports per 100,000 residents, and the Rochester area, with 303 reports per 100,000.
On the low end was the Watertown-Fort Drum area, with only 139 reports per 100,000.
The most frequent problem encountered was credit card fraud, according to the FTC. Nearly 25,000 New Yorkers reported that their information had been improperly used to spend money, or open accounts, the agency said.
The state Department of Labor reported that, as of late April, more than 1.1 million fraudulent unemployment claims have been identified since the start of the pandemic, which prevented the issuance of more than $12 billion in benefits, officials said.
DiNapoli believes that more action should be taken from a governmental standpoint to avoid repeating the issues seen last year, but he’s also making recommendations to members of the public, so they can protect themselves.
Among the measures he suggested are placing a limit on the number of sensitive documents you carry, shredding documents that you no longer need, using two-factor authentication online, avoiding links in unsolicited emails, and purchasing identity theft protection.
DiNapoli also said social media companies need to take additional steps to protect their users, including reminders about protecting sensitive information, and advising users to check their privacy settings.
The state Legislature could also play a part in protecting against identity theft through new laws, DiNapoli said.
Those would include a reclassification of medical information within the definition of identity theft, a ban on the collection of data without consent by website publishers and ad networks for marketing, and the inclusion of identity theft within the definition of elder abuse.
While identity theft is punishable by up to seven years in prison in New York, the comptroller’s office says that most complaints don’t result in an arrest, underscoring the importance of prevention.
For the 2019-2020 Fiscal Year in New York, there were only 543 arrests, with 201 suspects sentenced on the state and local levels.
In the meantime, DiNapoli says state agencies have partnered to help educate the public about what they can do to protect themselves.