(Bloomberg News) Identity theft fraud fell 34% last year to $37 billion, the lowest since Javelin Strategy & Research began tracking data in 2003.

About 8.1 million identities were stolen in 2010, the fewest since 2007, according to a Javelin study released today. Out-of-pocket costs to victims rose to $631 in 2010 from $387 in 2009, according to the Pleasanton, California-based 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% of crimes committed with cards already in circulation in 2010, up from 26% 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," said Van Dyke.

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 in 2010, up from $787 in 2009.

Consumer Education

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.

High-income households, or ones earning $150,000 or more a year, had the highest fraud rate of 7.3% compared with an average of 3.5% across all income levels, 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 spokeswoman 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 Sherry, who is based in Washington. "If they don't catch something right away it can be an endless torment."