Identity theft fraud fell 34 percent last year to $37 billion, the lowest since Javelin Strategy & Research began tracking in 2003.
About 8.1 million identities were stolen in 2010, the fewest since 2007, according to a Javelin study released Tuesday. Out-of-pocket costs to victims rose to $631 in 2010 from $387 in 2009, according to the market-research firm.
"There are fewer cases of identity fraud than there were in previous years. The bad news is there's more consumer cost," said James Van Dyke, Javelin's president and founder. "That's really due to a shift in the types of fraud."
Debit-card fraud accounted for 36 percent of crimes committed with cards already in circulation in 2010, up from 26 percent in 2009. Debit-card fraud is generally more expensive for consumers than credit card because zero-liability policies, which protect consumers from losses if their cards are stolen, are less common for debit cards, according to the study.
"There's been a shift from credit to debit in all kinds of transactions, and unfortunately as you have more debit transactions you have more debit fraud," Mr. Van Dyke said.
New-account fraud, in which a criminal opens an account in the individual's name rather than exploiting an existing account, also contributed to the rise in costs. Out-of-pocket losses for consumers on new-account fraud averaged $1,267, up from $787 in 2009.
Better consumer education and the success of systems that monitor customer accounts for unusual activity have helped to reduce fraud rates and losses, according to Erik Stein, a vice president of Brookfield, Wis.-based Fiserv, a financial services technology company and a sponsor of the survey.
Households with incomes of $150,000 or more a year had the highest fraud rate, 7.3 percent. The average across all income levels was 3.5 percent, the study said.
Consumers should regularly check their free credit reports and monitor their bank and credit-card statements for unfamiliar charges, said Linda Sherry, a spokesman for Consumer Action.
"I'm always amazed when I hear from people who don't read their credit-card statement, they just pay the bill," said Ms. Sherry, who is based in Washington.
"If they don't catch something right away it can be an endless torment."