Identity Theft: How to Build a Hype
How to build a hype:
1. Read a Bureau of Justice Statistics Report, which finds that:
- 6.7% of U.S. adults were on the receiving end of “identity theft” last year, but
- this definition includes “attempted misuse” that was unsuccessful, and
- the most common way adults found out about such activity was to be contacted by a financial institution that had already noticed and intervened to stop the activity, and
- only 14% of this 6.7% (about 0.9% of Americans) lost more than a dollar due to “identity theft” last year
- “Victims who experienced a direct and indirect financial loss of at least $1” — that 0.9% of Americans — “lost an average of $1,769 with a median loss of $300.” The difference between the mean and the median means that most people lost relatively little money, and just a few people lost a lot of money.
2. Now write an ABC News story that:
- Features an inflated headline reading “1 in 14 Fell Prey to Identity Theft in 2012” (6.7% is actually the equivalent of 1 in 15)
- Ignores that the vast majority of this group did not “fall prey,” since they lost nothing
- Falsely writes that “Two-thirds of identity theft victims experienced financial losses, which averaged $1,769” (the average of $1,769 is only of the 14% of the 6.7% of Americans who lost more than a dollar)
A careful read of the BJS report should leave you comforted. A quick read of the ABC News headline could make you panic.