Identity Theft Definition

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Identity theft is a serious crime that results in serious consequences. Identity theft cases continue to increase as new technological advancements make it easier for people to pretend to be someone else.

The Basics

Identity theft refers to using someone elseís personal identifying information in order to commit fraud or receive some type of benefit, usually monetary in nature. Personal identifying information includes a personís name, checking account number, routing number, credit card number or social security number, to name a few. Identity theft only occurs when someone does not give his or her consent to use such information. If a person gives his or her credit card to someone else and permission to use it, this likely will not result in identity theft because consent was rendered. However, there may be other charges or claims through this conduct. Identity theft requires the person perpetrating the crime to have the intent to commit fraud or some other crime.

Instances of Identity Theft

The Federal Trade Commission estimates that more than 9 million Americans have their identities stolen every year. The victims may not even be aware that they have been victimized in this nature until months or years later, after which time their credit can be ruined and their reputation may be damaged.

Crimes Perpetrated through Identity Theft

Individuals commit a variety of crimes by stealing other peopleís identifying information. These crimes may include leasing an apartment or house by using someone elseís credit information. An identity may be stolen in order to acquire a credit card in someone elseís name. Utilities may even be furnished by using someone elseís name and identifying information.

When Identity Theft Occurs

Identify theft starts when an identity thief acquires personal identifying information, like a social security number or credit card number. In some cases, the victim may be alive. In other cases, a deceased personís identity is taken. Still other cases revolve around the theft of a minorís information. Whether the victim is a minor, dead or alive does not typically change the criminal nature of the conduct.

Ways Identity Theft Are Committed

Identity thieves use a variety of methods to steal the identity of others. The most traditional method is to steal something that belongs to the victim. This may be committed when a thief goes into a home while the victim is at work. He or she may rifle through papers until he or she finds something with identifying information such as a driverís license number or social security number. Someoneís purse or wallet may be stolen. Someone may look through thrown away trash to find private information about someone. He or she may steal checks out of a personís mailbox. Skimming is the process of using a special device when scanning another personís card. A person may provide his or her card to wait staff or a store clerk who then gets this information for criminal purposes.

Technological ways also help identity thieves. A thief may send spam to try to get the person to provide their personal information through a phishing scheme. An identity thief may also use false pretenses in order to get the person to reveal personal information, such as pretending to be part of the victimís bank, credit card company or other account. After an identity thief gets a credit card or other benefit on behalf of the victim, he or she may then change the victimís address so communications regarding the account go somewhere else.

Discovering Identity Theft

Many people do not discover that they have become the victim of identity theft until damage has been done. They may suddenly find that they are denied credit when they never had a problem before. They may start to get contacted by a creditor for debt that they never accumulated. Alternatively, a person may pull his or her credit report and discover unauthorized accounts and transactions. Many people do not check their credit reports on a regular basis, so this discovery may come months or years after the initial theft occurred.

Penalties for Identity Theft

A person who is convicted of this crime can be charged thousands of dollars in fines and restitution. Additionally, he or she may be jailed for a period of months or years. In many states, identity theft is considered a felony. Whether it is a felony or not often depends on the value of money or goods received due to the theft. Due to the serious nature of the consequences associated with this crime, many individuals accused of identity theft choose to hire a private lawyer who is familiar with this crime and possible defenses.


Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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