Identity theft hit an estimated 3.6 million households -- approximately three percent -- during a six-month period in 2004, according to the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), released late last week.

The estimated loss during the six-month period was about $3.2 billion, including losses that may have been reimbursed by credit-card companies, insurance companies or other financial institutions.

Identity theft questions were added to the BJS crime survey in July 2004, and last week's data represents the first six months of data available for analysis. Annual prevalence estimates will be published when data are available for 2005.

The survey questions were asked of one household member, who provided information about other property crimes the entire household may have suffered. The survey did not obtain information on which household members were victims.

Forty-eight percent of the respondents experienced unauthorized use of credit cards while 25 percent had other accounts, such as banking accounts used without permission.

Another 15 percent experienced the misuse of personal information and 12 percent experienced multiple types of theft at the same time.

Households headed by young people (18 to 24 years old), those in urban or suburban areas and those with incomes of $75,000 or more were the most likely to experience identity theft. Victimization did not differ by race or ethnicity.

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