The history of identity theft goes back many years before the Internet became a major avenue of communication. As a matter of fact, identity theft dates back prior to the 49th state joining the union!
The First Identity Thefts
Identity theft was once a physical crime. The first criminals who stole identities actually murdered their victims. Once the corpse was safely disposed of, the criminal would simply take the name of the victim, social security number and other personal information. The motivation was usually not money driven, but more as a way to acquire a new identity. Obviously, each case was different and it would be impossible to make generalizations. Perhaps, a person was in debt to Al Capone and his cronies and needed to escape and wanted a fresh start in California with inaccurate but authentic documentation. This would be an extreme way of obtaining a fresh beginning, but when you consider the culture of this era in history, it seems plausible. The criminal, in essence, became the physical persona of the victim.
Identity thieves started using the telephone to commit their crimes. This was the first technological device used in the history of identity theft. Thieves would call their victims with promises of monetary rewards or other prizes. These identity thieves would then ask for personal information to verify the identity of the lucky winner. As identity theft was not publicized during this time, folks were quite willing to provide their social security number, address, bank account number and other personal information. The criminal would now have all the personal information needed to assume the identity of the victim. The victim, instead of receiving a life-changing prize, ended up with ruined credit and a lifetime of misery. While this was the avenue of almost 100% of identity fraud attempts in the 60s & 70s, today only 7% of attempts to steal identities come via the telephone.
Criminals Love Trash
The next period in the history of identity theft popularized the use of the personal paper shredder. While identity theft via the phone was becoming fairly well known to the general public, thieves found another method for gathering personal information. Criminals began going through trash looking for credit card and bank account statements as well as other personal identifiers. During the 80s, victims did not even consider that their garbage might be a means to steal their identities. As this approach became acknowledged through news reports and other alerts, the general public began investing in personal paper shredders.
All of a sudden, the Internet presented various new opportunities for identity thieves to have access to endless personal information. Right around the millennia is when identity theft truly became a mainstream term and threat. The Internet age is the current chapter in the history of identity theft.
Obviously, computer fraud has evolved massively since surfing the net has been in vogue. Even though the techniques have changed from blatant thievery to a more refined illicit art form, the intent has remained the same. Identity theft has, and always will have one goal: steal personal information for money.
According to the FTC, 62% of all identity frauds occur over the Internet with most a result of email fraud. The Internet enables the criminal to steal identities from all over the world. The thief can live in California and steal an identity in Nova Scotia and then use the Internet to make purchases and apply for loans or credit accounts. The criminal never has to appear in person to perpetrate or profit from this crime. This is quite a change from the early days!
The history of identity theft began with murder. Today, a criminal never has to see or speak with you to steal your identity. In addition, the thief can be thousands of miles away and still successfully obtain your personal information. From a crime of proximity to a crime of remoteness, identity theft is evolving with the world and is running rampant.