Identity Theft


Identity theft is frequently mentioned in today’s society. The crime is often reported in the news,advertisements warn consumers to review their credit reports, and companies offer insurance, credit monitoring, and early detection products. By and large, identity theft had for long been considered a lesser crime, but recent occurrences have elevated it to one of the most serious crimes as it has gone beyond the conventional thought as a nuisance crime. Though many think of it as a new social phenomenon created by increased reliance on technology, in reality it is a much broader and more complex crime, and one that can have serious ramifications for all aspects of society including the economy and national security.The purpose of this paper is to present a better understanding of the complicated and multifaceted crime that identity theft is.

Introduction to Identity Theft

Simply stated, identity theft is fraud. Identity thieves target both businesses and individuals, and often there is a connection between the two. Sometimes the identities of businesses are stolen, other times; businesses are exploited in order to gain access to the personal identifying information of individuals.Personal identity theft is the use of a person’s identifying information without his or her knowledge with the aimto aid or abet in any illegalactivity such as the fraudulent obtaining of services, merchandise, money, or credit(Hoffman & McGinley, 2010).Thieves also target the identities of businesses. This involves the use of a business identifier without permission and with the intent to aid or abet in any unlawful activity such as fraudulent obtaining services, merchandise, money, or credit. It also occurs when business-identifying information is used to aid in the commission of other felonies or misdemeanors.


Methods of How Someone’s Identity Can Be Compromised

Identity thieves go to any length to secure an individuals’ personal information. Park(2011), there exist two main types of actual identity theft. The first of these involves the identity thief getting possession of a person’s physical credit card, or perhaps just the card number and expiry date, using it to purchase services and products. The second type of identity theft according to Park(2011) is called application fraud, or what is known otherwise as “true name fraud”. In order for a thief to be successful at application fraud, they must have access to a victims’ personal information.According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, identity thieves get information on their victims through various means. These include:Dumpster diving which involves the identity thief going through the target victim’s trashcan; Phishing which involves identity thieves planting bait and lure unsuspecting victims into providing confidential and personal information; and telephone service fraud which involves the identity thief tricking the victims into giving personal information over the telephone or by email (Hoffman & McGinley, 2010).Other more commonly used methodsin identity theft are mail or wallet stealing; Shoulder surfing; ATM skimming; Check fraud; and Credit card theft.

Establish if most of identity theft is committed by a single individual or an organized group of individuals.

According to Hoffman & McGinley(2010), information regarding the perpetrators of identity theft is limited for the reason that most research have focused on the victims of the crime. However, they state that while there existsinstances of organized groups of fraudstersengaging in identity theft most of the convicted offenders are usually single individuals.A typology developed by Robert Morris classifies identity theft as either committed by a single individual or an organized group of individuals. In the exploratory research, he divides identity thieves into four major categories: The Circumstantial Identity Thief, The Semi-Pro, The Professional, and The Survivalist.The Circumstantial Identity thief, is the starting point for most identity thieves (Morris, 2004). Circumstances must exist in unison for the crime to take place. The offender must be presented with an opportunity, such as finding a wallet containing a credit card. Then, he must have an opportunity to use the card.The Semi-Pro identity thief learns new techniques from each experience. They find that the incentive for committing identity theft outweighs the incentives for not committing the crime and that the financial and non-financial benefits are substantial because there is little chance of apprehension by law enforcement. Offenders tend to commit the crime with more and more frequently as time passes. They may also recruit others to steal personal information from their workplaces.The Professional Identity thief may regard identity theft as an occupation (Morris, 2004). Offenders in this category utilize a vast array of methods, ranging from stealing mail to hacking databases to obtain personal information. They are adept at hiding their true identities. In order to remain invincible for long periods of time some professional identity thieves completely take over the identities of other people and often enlist others, called co-op identity thieves, as partners.The last category is the Survivalist Identity Thief. Those in this category jeopardize the safety and security of U.S citizens and law enforcement personnel. The survivalist may hide behind another persons identity to avoid being arrested. If arrested, he may use another persons identity to conceal his true identity and may  resort to violence in order to keep his true identity concealed.

Establish what identity thieves do with your information once they obtained it.

Once the information is obtained, identity thieves are left with two options. Theseoptions are using the information themselves, or selling the information to third parties.That is, the thieves will either sell the information to other criminal enterprises or they will use it to open up bank accounts, take loans, or use existing credit and debit cards to clean out the victims’ accounts.If they opt to sell the information to other criminal enterprises, the stolen personal information such as stolen credit card numbers and other personal information can be posted for sale on networks of illegal trading sites where hackers and criminals from around the world openly buy and sell large amounts of personal data for profit.Stolen data networks have flourished in the open, with names such as CarderPlanet, ShadowCrew, and Network Terrorism Forum. The stolen personal information posted on such sites is for sale, either to be purchased or used in a “joint venture.”Once these personal information have been posted, in a joint venture, network members may use the stolen numbers to purchase goods and send them to a drop site for pick-up by other members. The goods are then sold and the proceeds shared.

Research and document how law enforcement and the courts deal with this crime.

Various approaches have been adopted to deal with the issue of identity theft. These have for the most part included the legislation of laws and the establishment and empowerment of various agencies that are charged with the handling of such crimes.The first step taken by the United States was the legislation of The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act that came into effect in 1998. It made identity theft a federal crime with penaltiesof imprisonmentup to 15 years and a maximum fine of $250,000. It also recognized the person who had their identity stolen as the true victim, and enabled law enforcement agencies to investigate identity theft crimes and the associated fraud. Section 5 of Act mandates the FTC to refer complaints of identity theft to the appropriate law enforcement agencies for potential law enforcement action, and that includes local law enforcement agencies.Additional legislation came in the form of The Fair and Accurate Credit Act of 2003 (H.R. 2622), often referred to as the FACT Act. The act established requirements for consumer reporting agencies, creditors, and others to help remedy identity theft. The Act provided certain rights and privileges to victims of identity theft to recuperate losses and damage made by the perpetrator of the crime. This act attempted to lessen the lengthy and difficult process for the victim to recover from identity theft. But before the rights and privileges are provided to the victim, the victim needs to have a crime report filed by a law enforcement agency, hence the importance of local law enforcement agencies’ taking an active role in identity theft prevention and investigation. Identity theft victims will be told by the financial institutions to report the crime to their local police agency. The Act defines an identity theft report as “a copy of an official, valid report filed by a consumer with an appropriate federal, state, or local law enforcement agency, or such other agency deemed appropriate by the FTC.”


With increased use of the Internet and the convenience of automated teller machines and credit cards, identity theft has become a major problem in the United States. Just like the traditional thief, the identity thief steals property from the victim; but the identity thief breaches the victim’s most personal information. It is an emotionally abusive crime, and its psychological effects on the victim may last for years. It is a repetitive crime, as victims receive continual notices by phone or mail from creditors. Therefore, victims suffer some of the same emotional damage as victims of repeated physical assault.There is no question that identity theft is a growing problem for law enforcement, and all indications are that it will continue to grow beyond local agencies’ resources and abilities. Fortunately, there are many public and private organizations that are available to help law enforcement agencies with this dilemma. It is imperative for local law enforcement agencies to train officers and investigators in reporting, investigating, and preparing cases for courts to handle identity theft crimes. It is also imperative that law enforcement agencies begin a community awareness program to fully educate the public on identity theft prevention, and the process if identity theft does occur.


Dadisho, E. (2005). Identity Theft and the Police Response: The Problem. Retrieved from The Police Chief: The Profession Voice of Law Enforcement:

Hoffman, S. K., & McGinley, T. G. (2010). Identity Theft: A Reference Handbook. ABC-CLIO.

Morris, R. (2004). The Development of an Identity Theft OffenderTypology: A Theoretical Approach. Retrieved February 9, 2015, from Sam Houston State University:

Muraskin, R., & Roberts, A. R. (2009). Visions for Change: Crime and Justice in the Twenty-First Century. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Pearson Education Inc.

Park, G. (2011). Identity Theft – Do Not Be The Next Victim! SmarteBookShop.


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