BOSTON (TheStreet) -- Thieves, Mother Nature, vandals, arsonists and hackers are all digging deep into our nation's collective wallet.Each year, losses mount for people and corporations alike from such disparate drains as fire, fraud, flooding and purloined identities. For example, in 2008, at the heart of the recession, 7.5% of U.S. adults lost money as a result of some sort of financial fraud, according to a survey by Gartner analysts. Payment card fraud -- including credit, debit and ATM cards -- were the most common perpetrated by thieves, claiming 36% more victims that year than other types of fraud. Gartner found the impact was worst with new account, credit card and brokerage fraud, with average losses per incident totaling $1,097, $929 and $900, respectively. Institutions lose along with consumers, from a tarnished image that translates into lost business. Twenty-eight percent of victims of checking- and savings-account transfer fraud say they changed banks as a result of security concerns, Gartner says. This compares with with 5% overall who switched because of concerns regarding the financial health of their banks and 21% who changed because of what they felt were excessive fees.
Credit Card fraud costs the U.S. card payments industry an estimated $8.6 billion per year, according to the Aite Group, a Boston-based consultant focused on financial services. Despite the large sum, the firm points out that the losses make up only 0.4% of the $2.1 trillion in total yearly U.S. card volume. "Fighting card fraud effectively involves triage and telepathy -- picking appropriate battles to fight while anticipating fraudsters' next steps based on the rapidly evolving technological landscape," reads a report it issued on the topic last year. In response, to "detect and prevent global electronic payments fraud," Visa ( V) announced earlier this month that is has upgraded its global processing platform, allowing it to sort through more data more quickly, target specific types of fraud and better isolate fraudulent transactions from legitimate ones. A statement from the company says the improvements could help it "identify $1.5 billion in fraud, representing a 29% performance improvement from 2009."
The 2010 Identity Fraud Survey Report compiled by Javelin Strategy & Research found 11.1 million adults were victimized by identity fraud in 2009, sustaining $54 billion in damages. Additionally, the average victim spent 21 hours and $373 out of pocket resolving the crime. The annual report also found that businesses and victims alike are better responding to the threat. Financial institutions and businesses are countering thieves by minimizing the use of Social Security numbers in account information and more actively monitoring and notifying customers of possible fraudulent activity. Consumers are monitoring their accounts more frequently using online banking tools and mobile alerts. Average fraud resolution time dropped 30% in 2009, to 21 hours, and nearly half of new victims file police reports, resulting in double the reported arrests, triple the prosecutions and double the percentage of convictions in 2009, Javelin says.
In the United States, emergency personnel respond to a fire about every 23 seconds and a home suffers fire damage once every 87 seconds. In addition to those estimates, the National Fire Protection Association says that in 2009, the most recent year for which national statistics are available, it tallied 1,348,500 fires reported in the U.S., causing $12.5 billion in property damage. Structure fires, including homes and businesses, caused roughly $10.8 billion in damage. Vehicle fires were to blame for an additional $1.4 billion in property damage. In 2009, according to the association, there were 26,500 intentionally set structure fires, causing roughly $684 million in property damage.
Bernie Madoff, Kenneth Starr and Robert Allen Stanford are some of the Hall of Shame crooks who bilked would-be investors out of billions. In addition to the biggest of headline-grabbing white-collar criminals, there are also abundant smaller-scale copycats deploying Ponzi schemes, false promises of unreasonable returns and nonexistent investment opportunities. On just one day in December, nearly 500 alleged perpetrators of investment fraud, civil and criminal, were rounded up in a federal crackdown. The criminal cases, with 120,000 victims, were said to have led to $8.3 billion in losses. Civil cases added another $2 billion -- and the estimated loss amount doesn't even include more than $175 million of debt owed victims as a consequence of the underlying fraud schemes that was precluded from Chapter 7 bankruptcy discharge. And all that was just one day. Hundreds of cases are prosecuted each year, frequently with damages that add up to millions.
Less sophisticated than the acts of white-collar cons is simple, direct stealing. During the third quarter of 2010, the most recent period for which the FBI offers statistics, there were 1,325 reported bank robberies. Roughly $9.3 million in loot was stolen, only about $1.4 million of which was recovered and returned to financial institutions. Digging into the FBI's depository of crime statistics, in 2009 (the most recent full year with data available), there were an estimated 2,199,125 burglaries, accounting for 23.6% of all property crimes committed that year. Victims suffered an estimated $4.6 billion in lost property and, overall, the average dollar loss per burglary was $2,096. There were an estimated 408,217 robberies, responsible for $508 million in losses. The average dollar value of property stolen per reported robbery was $1,244. Larceny includes shoplifting, stealing bicycles, car break-ins/part stripping and pocket-picking. There were an estimated 6,327,230 larcenies and thefts nationwide, and the average value of property taken was $864 per offense. The loss to victims nationally was nearly $5.5 billion.
Vandalism, considered art by a few and property damage by the majority, costs taxpayers plenty. Las Vegas spends roughly $3 million a year to keep tags from competing with neon. Los Angeles and Chicago have graffiti removal budgets in the range of $7 million.
When it comes to flooding, and the damage it causes, there's no such thing as a typical year. U.S. flood losses average about $2.4 billion a year and since 1978, the National Flood Insurance Program has paid out more than $36 billion for flood insurance claims and related costs. Though the federally subsidized insurance program (with 5.5 million policyholders) doesn't offer a complete view of flood-related property damage, its payouts do show how the impact can swing wildly from year to year. In 2009, there was about $618 million in payouts; 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina, $17.7 billion in losses were paid. In 2008, the total was $3.4 billion. -- Written by Joe Mont in Boston. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Joe Mont. >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/josephmont. >To submit a news tip, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Get more stock ideas and investing advice on our sister site, Stockpickr.com.