Identity Theft

Identity theft increased by 25 percent in the United States last year, according to a February 2009 report by Javelin Strategy and Research, which attributes the steep hike to tough economic times and desperate criminals.

Javelin says this is the first noted increase in identity-related crimes since the company began reporting on it in 2004.

Identity theft occurs when a perpetrator steals personal and confidential information from a victim - name, birth date, social security number, and/or bank account, credit card, personal identification or other numbers - and uses it to purchase goods and services and to obtain loans in the victim's name.

The victim is often unaware of the thefts until he or she receives monthly bills or is contacted by a collection agency seeking payment. Javelin found that victims average 40 hours resolving identity theft issues.

A February 2008 Federal Trade Commission Report revealed that the commission's Consumer Sentinel database received more than 800,000 consumer fraud and identity theft complaints in 2007, with more than $1.2 billion in related losses reported.

A report issued by the U.S. Department of Justice found that the most common methods used by identity thieves to obtain information include buying it from others, stealing it from mailboxes or trashcans, or using the personal information of people they know.

Identity theft is of particular concern to the justice community, which relies on verified identification to positively link an individual to his or her criminal history record information.

This can be especially problematic in an age when many states and a number of private vendors provide name-only criminal record background check services that are utilized in far greater numbers than the more effective fingerprint-based background checks.

An identity thief using stolen information can obtain identification documents in his or her victim's name allowing the thief to evade the consequences of his or her criminal past and gain employment in positions of trust with access to vulnerable populations or financial assets.

Identity thieves can also use fraudulent identification documents to elude wants and warrants during traffic stops.

Even more devastating is the identity thief's use of a victim's name and other identification information when arrested, a crime now termed "criminal identity theft." The victim is often saddled with an unwarranted criminal record that may prevent him or her from obtaining employment, housing and other goods and services when criminal record checks are conducted prior to providing them.

The victim is often not aware that a criminal record exists in his or her name until these denials occur, when the victim is arrested after a routine traffic stop or when police officers come to his or her residence with an arrest warrant for failure to appear in court. Frequently, the identification mix-up is not resolved until the victim is taken to the police station and fingerprinted.

A report prepared by Synovate for the Federal Trade Commission estimated that that at least 275,000 people are victimized in this fashion each year in the United States. This was the most frequently reported use of victim information for “non-account identity theft,” which is described in the report as instances when the victim’s information is used for employment purposes, to obtain government disaster relief and benefits, and to escape the consequences of criminal activities.

A report issued by a national focus group sponsored by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice and SEARCH found that several states have instituted processes to aid identity theft victims when they come into contact with police, including identity theft passports, passwords or personal identification numbers.

Some focus group members also suggested expunging, sealing or flagging the record associated with identity theft as possible solutions.

The FBI's National Crime Information Center 2000 also contains an Identity Theft File with records that contain personal profiles of the victim including a password of one to eight characters established by the police officer who takes the initial identity theft report.

Links
National Conference of State Legislatures: State Identity Theft Statutes  

Federal Trade Commission: Fighting Back Against Identity Theft  

Personal Information: Data Breaches are Frequent but Evidence of Resulting Identity Theft is Limited; However, the Full Extent is Unknown

Privacy Rights Clearinghouse: Recent Studies and Surveys on Identity Theft  

U.S. Department of Justice Identity Theft and Identity Fraud Webpage