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What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is serious crime. Identity theft is a term used to refer to fraud that involves receiving benefits by pretending to be someone else. The person whose identity is used can suffer various consequences when they are held responsible for the perpetrator's actions. The FTC estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year.

There are three types of identity theft that most commonly affect individuals:

  • financial identity theft (using another’s identity to obtain goods and services)
  • criminal identity theft (posing as another when apprehended for a crime)
  • identity cloning (using information to assume a person’s identity in daily life)

A regular example of financial identity theft occurs when a criminal obtains a loan from a financial institution by impersonating someone else while presenting the victim’s name, address, birth date, or other information that the lender requires as a means of establishing identity. The criminal keeps the money from the loan, the financial institution is never repaid, and the victim is wrongly blamed for defaulting on a loan he/she never authorized. The victim may discover the incident by being denied a loan, by seeing the accounts or complaints when they view their own credit history, or by being contacted by creditors or collection agencies. The victim's credit score, which affects one's ability to acquire new loans or credit lines, will be adversely affected until they are able to successfully dispute the fraudulent accounts and have them removed from their record.

When a criminal identifies himself to police as another individual it is sometimes referred to as criminal identity theft. In some cases the criminal will obtain a state issued ID using stolen documents or personal information belonging to another person, or they may simply use a fake ID. When the criminal is arrested for a crime, they present the ID to authorities. When the criminal fails to appear for his/her court hearing, a warrant is issued under the assumed name. The victim may learn of the incident if the state suspends their driver license, through a background check performed for employment or other purposes, or may even be arrested when stopped for a minor traffic violation.

Identity cloning may involve a situation in which a criminal acquires personal identifiers, and then impersonates someone for the purpose of concealment from authorities. This may be done by a person who wants to avoid arrest for crimes, by a person who is working illegally in a foreign country, or by a person who is hiding from creditors or other individuals. Concealment may continue for an extended amount of time without ever being detected. Additionally, the criminal might attempt to obtain fraudulent documents or IDs consistent with the cloned identity to make the impersonation even more convincing and concealed.

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