Now, about those countermoves. As synthetic identity fraud becomes more difficult, fraudsters have sought a path of less resistance, Cookman said. "We see people turning — or returning — to other types of fraud," he said.
In response to the crackdown on synthetic identity fraud, some scammers are falling back on old tricks, such as submitting phony income or employment data on credit applications that are in the applicant's own name or a variation of their own name — sometimes aided and abetted by dealerships, experts note.
Some other scams are newer, such as "credit washing." That's where scammers themselves claim to be identity-theft victims and seek to wipe their credit histories clean.
"The credit repair issue is certainly one we are watching closely," Cookman said. "We think that will be growing."
Becky Chernek, founder of Chernek Consulting, a dealership training firm in Atlanta, has heard anecdotally of credit-washing scams from other vendors and from dealership F&I managers.
"The individual stops making payments. Then they go the police station, file a complaint and say, 'That's not me. I didn't buy that car. I don't know where this came from!' " she said.
According to TransUnion, reported fraud victims are 3.2 times more likely to have a subsequent charge-off for a bad loan than someone who has never had a credit line terminated for fraud. It's possible that could be happening honestly, the credit bureau said. For instance, a victim who has subprime credit could be expected to have more charge-offs down the road.
But it's also possible the person "posed as a victim to clean up their file and get approved for credit," according to a TransUnion report on fraud and identity theft in automotive.
McKenna of PointPredictive also said lenders report "credit repair fraud" is on the increase. "Borrowers are claiming that loans that they originally applied for were fraudulent and using the dispute system with the credit bureaus and banks to remove them," he said in an email.
Nevertheless, slower growth in synthetic identities is big news, said Cookman of TransUnion.
Specifically, outstanding automotive balances associated with synthetic identity fraud accounted for $630.5 million as of the second quarter of 2019, TransUnion reported in October. That was an increase of only 1.4 percent from a year earlier. In the second quarter of 2018, the number had increased 5.3 percent, after rising at a double-digit pace in the same period of each of the prior six years.