The most common crime affecting Mainers – identity theft – also is the crime that most often goes unreported to police, according to a 2015 survey.
Reports of identify theft have risen consistently in the Maine Crime Victimization Survey, and more than one in three Mainers said they were victims of it in the past year.
“Certainly we’re seeing these rates because we’re all living at the intersection of wonderful technology, data warehousing and a bunch of criminals that are always finding new ways to commit crime,” said Jane Carpenter of Maine Identity Services, a member of a panel of experts who gathered at the University of Southern Maine in Portland to discuss the survey results on Tuesday.
Carpenter also noted that Maine’s identity theft law is 17 years old and treats identity theft as a misdemeanor.
The Maine Crime Victimization Survey is conducted every few years by the Maine Statistical Analysis Center at USM’s Muskie School of Public Service. The telephone survey of 843 respondents sought information about crime and the people affected by it that is not reflected in police statistics. Police data include only reported crimes.
The survey authors, George Shaler and Robyn Dumont, said that fewer than one in five crimes reported in the survey were reported to police.
Just 21 percent of people who said they were victims of stalking in the previous 12 months reported it to police, they said. One in three people who were threatened with violence reported it to police.
Victims were most likely to report property crimes, with 58.5 percent saying they told law enforcement.
The poll has a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points for questions answered by all respondents.
While 36 percent of people said they had been victims of identity theft, just 7 percent reported it to police.
Carpenter, who formerly worked in the Consumer Protection Division of the Maine Attorney General’s Office, said that is problematic because it allows major crimes to go underreported, making it harder to get resources to address the problem and pass legislation to beef up Maine’s identity theft law.
In the 2006 survey, one in 10 people had been victimized by identity theft. That jumped to one in five in the 2011 survey, and one in three in the most recent survey.
Carpenter said identity theft is a moving target. While thefts of credit card information and other data breaches get the headlines, identity theft can be as simple as a worker stealing checks from someone’s home or someone filing false tax returns in another’s name. It also encompasses cyberespionage by hostile governments.
The survey revealed that, overall, 91 percent of respondents say they feel safe in their communities.
That number drops to 78 percent for people who have been victims of property crime and 68 percent for victims of violent crime, the survey said.
The number of people who believe police are doing a good job also depends on whether the respondent has been a victim. About 75 percent of people who have not been victims of crime feel police are doing a good job, but that number drops to 48 percent for property crime victims and 34 percent for violent crime victims.
South Portland Police Chief Edward Googins said those numbers are good gauges for how well law enforcement and the rest of the criminal justice system respond to crime victims.
“In the end, it’s very beneficial for law enforcement to understand the community perception of crime and whether they feel safe in their day-to-day lives,” Googins said.
He is concerned by the level of crime that goes unreported, saying law enforcement needs to respond by building relationships in the community and working to use technology to make it easier for victims to report crime.
Other insights from the survey:
• More than half the respondents reported being victims of some criminal activity in the previous 12 months.
• People 34 and younger were four times as likely to be victims of violent crime than those 35 and older.
• People with incomes below $25,000 were more likely to be victims of stalking than those earning more than $100,000, but the latter were more likely to be victims of identity theft.
• One in 10 crime victims reported that they believed they were targeted because of their race, gender, religion or sexual orientation. Most of those people – 85 percent – reported more than one type of crime against them.