The National Crisis of Identity Theft
Identity theft is a form of fraud or cheating of another person's identity in which someone pretends to be someone else by assuming that person's identity, typically in order to access resources or obtain credit and other benefits in that person's name. The victim of identity theft (here meaning the person whose identity has been assumed by the identity thief) can suffer adverse consequences if he or she is held accountable for the perpetrator's actions. Organizations and individuals who are duped or defrauded by the identity thief can also suffer adverse consequences and losses, and to that extent are also victims.
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Identity cloning and concealment
In this situation, the identity thief impersonates someone else in order to conceal their own true identity. Examples might be illegal immigrants, people hiding from creditors or other individuals, or those who simply want to become "anonymous" for personal reasons. Unlike identity theft used to obtain credit which usually comes to light when the debts mount, concealment may continue indefinitely without being detected, particularly if the identity thief is able to obtain false credentials in order to pass various authentication tests in everyday life.
Criminal Identity Theft
When a criminal fraudulently identifies himself to police as another individual at the point of arrest, it is sometimes referred to as "Criminal Identity Theft." In some cases criminals have previously obtained state-issued identity documents using credentials stolen from others, or have simply presented fake ID. Provided the subterfuge works, charges may be placed under the victim's name, letting the criminal off the hook. Victims might only learn of such incidents by chance, for example by receiving court summons, discovering their drivers licenses are suspended when stopped for minor traffic violations, or through background checks performed for employment purposes.
It can be difficult for the victim of a criminal identity theft to clear their record. The steps required to clear the victim's incorrect criminal record depend on what jurisdiction the crime occurred in and whether the true identity of the criminal can be determined. The victim might need to locate the original arresting officers and prove their own identity by some reliable means such as fingerprinting or DNA fingerprinting, and may need to go to a court hearing to be cleared of the charges. Obtaining an expungement of court records may also be required. Authorities might permanently maintain the victim's name as an alias for the criminal's true identity in their criminal records databases. One problem that victims of criminal identity theft may encounter is that various data aggregators might still have the incorrect criminal records in their databases even after court and police records are corrected. Thus it is possible that a future background check will return the incorrect criminal records. This is just one example of the kinds of impact that may continue to affect the victims of identity theft for some months or even years after the crime, aside from the psychological trauma that being 'cloned' typically engenders.
Synthetic Identity Theft
A variation of identity theft which has recently become more common is synthetic identity theft, in which identities are completely or partially fabricated. The most common technique involves combining a real social security number with a name and birthdate other than the ones associated with the number. Synthetic identity theft is more difficult to track as it doesn't show on either person's credit report directly, but may appear as an entirely new file in the credit bureau or as a subfile on one of the victim's credit reports. Synthetic identity theft primarily harms the creditors who unwittingly grant the fraudsters credit. Individual victims can be affected if their names become confused with the synthetic identities, or if negative information in their subfiles impacts their credit ratings.
Medical identity theft
Medical identity theft occurs when someone uses a person's name and sometimes other parts of their identity—such as insurance information—without the person's knowledge or consent to obtain medical services or goods, or uses the person’s identity information to make false claims for medical services or goods. Medical identity theft frequently results in erroneous entries being put into existing medical records, which may in turn lead to inappropriate and potentially life-threatening decisions by medical staff.
According to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, both the credit reporting agency and the organization that provided the information, such as your bank or credit card company, must correct inaccurate or incomplete information in your credit report. Contact the credit reporting agency and the information provider to dispute any information.
To file a complaint or to get free information on consumer issues: www.ftc.gov Call toll-free, 877-FTC-HELP
Privacy Rights web links:
Guide to Online Privacy Resources
Privacy Rights Clearing House
Privacy Rights NOW!
Employment Background Checks: A Job Seekers Guide
Legal Aid Society Employment Law
ID Theft & Fraud web links:
ID Theft Center
US Department of Justice - Criminal ID Thef
BBB Feature - Identity Theft
Call For Action -- Empowering Consumers and Educating About Identity Theft
Fraud and Identity Theft Information
Identity Theft Resources
Identity Theft Prevention and Survival
Identity Theft - Social Security Administration
Reporting Fraud - Social Security Administration
Office of Privacy Protection - California Department of Consumer Affairs
Registry Application Process - CA Dept. of Justice - Office of the Attorney General
Tips for Victims - Identity Theft - CA DoJ - Office of the Attorney General
Consumer Internet Privacy Protection Act of 1997
NFIC - Links to Online Resources
F T C home page for consumers
Federal Trade Commission
The Computer Security Institute
National Fraud Center
US Postal Inspection Service
Stay Safe Online
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
Anti Phishing Working Group
Consumer Advice: How to Avoid Phishing Scams
Credit Problem & Remedies web links:
National Credit Reporting Association
Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions
The FTC’s website on Credit
Rebuilding Credit FAQ’s from NOLO Press
What to do if there’s an error on your Credit Report from NOLO Press