8.3 million Americans victims of ID theft

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Nearly 4 percent of American adults were victims of identity theft in 2005, but half of them did not incur any out-of-pocket expenses, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission said on Tuesday.

An agency survey found identity information was stolen from 8.3 million U.S. adults and most commonly used to access or open accounts for credit cards, bank checking, telephone service, e-mail, and medical insurance.

“In more than half of the incidents, victims incurred no out-of-pocket expenses,” the FTC said in a statement. However, 10 percent of the victims reported out-of-pocket expenses of $1,200 or more, it said.

The FTC survey also looked at the value of goods or services that thieves obtained using the victims’ personal information. In half of all incidents, thieves obtained items or services worth $500 or less while in 10 percent of cases, thieves got at least $6,000.

“Whether you’re from Malibu or Manhattan, Tacoma or Tallahassee, no one is immune to identity theft,” said Lydia Parnes, director of the FTC’s consumer protection bureau. “The important thing is that people learn how to deter identity thieves, detect suspicious activity on their financial records, and defend against the crime, should it happen.”

Some 37 percent of victims reported problems beyond their out-of-pocket expenses, the FTC said. They included being harassed by debt collectors, denied new credit or loans, unable to use existing credit cards, having utilities cut off, or having difficulty obtaining or accessing bank accounts.

The FTC said its survey was based on 4,917 telephone interviews conducted between March 27 and June 11, 2006.

Reporting by Julie Vorman; Editing by Brian Moss