What is Identity Theft?

Many times I take for granted that people know how to answer the question: What is identity theft? But in most cases, people either think of the term too narrowly or they do not completely understand the ramifications of the crime. Below is one way to answer that question as thoroughly as possible.

A Top Crime

Did you know that identity theft has been the number one complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for five years in a row? As more people become victims and learn how to spot the signs of this crime, they are becoming more active in reporting identity theft. Yet, many people still wonder, what is identity theft?

The Basic Definition

When someone commits identity theft, they are using someone else’s personal or financial information without permission, to gain something for themselves. For example, the most common type of identity theft occurs when your driver’s license is stolen and that information is used to open new credit card accounts by the thief. The thief does not have your permission to use the information in this way, but is benefiting by being able to purchase things under your name without having to pay for them.

Other Types of ID Theft

While the above definition provides a broad answer to the question of what is identity theft, the crime can actually include a much wider range of criminal activities. For example, a group of illegal immigrants in Iowa were being charged with identity theft because their employers gave them other people’s social security numbers so they would appear to be legal workers. In other cases, a family member or friend “borrows” an identity to turn on utilities in their name or to get a cellular phone account. Identity theft can be used to secure new credit cards, car loans, student loans, pay medical bills, and more.

The Most Detrimental Type of Use

As you can imagine, all of the uses described above can have serious ramifications for the people involved, but the most serious example of what is identity theft is when someone commits a crime under your name. This is one of the rarest types of the crime, but it does happen. A criminal can tell the police any name they want and if the criminal and you are not already in the criminal database, they have no way of knowing for sure that the criminal is lying.