Identity theft is among the most rapidly growing white-collar crime in the United States. Criminal activity continues to be a concern for law enforcement and policymakers as it affects the security and economic sectors of the nation. Globalization and increased cyber insecurity are the major contributing factors to identity theft today (Randa & Reyns, 2019). The crime poses financial risks to victims who incur huge losses due to stolen credit cards and unauthorized bank transfers. Additionally, identity theft interconnects with other significant criminal activities, such as terrorism, threatening the people and the nation. Law enforcement is responsible for curbing criminal activity, the associated crimes, and potential effects on the victims. The criminal activity has challenged law enforcement for a long with debates on what constitutes identity theft and various penalties under the state statute. This paper explores identity theft, various statutes regarding the crime in the United States, and a procedure for victims regarding reporting a case of identity theft.
Definitions of Identity Theft
Identity theft has various definitions depending on how a criminal uses someone else’s identity. The definition of identity theft is stipulated under the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act. Identity theft is a crime when someone knowingly possesses, transfers, or uses another person’s identification without the owner’s authorization to commit a crime or felony under state or local law (Ahmed, 2020). The criminal could use another person’s identity in connection with unlawful activities without the person’s knowledge, which makes it an aggravated crime. The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) defines identity theft as fraud committed or an attempt to commit fraud by falsifying another person’s documents without permission (Hu et al., 2022). The crime can facilitate other crimes, such as burglary or unauthorized immigration. In standard terms, identity theft describes all crimes, including stealing or forging another person’s information to gain wrongful authority over their finances or committing a crime with their identity (Lippman, 2017). Thus, law enforcement analyzes the form of identity theft for policy-making and prosecution as each case varies according to the victim and offenders’ intention.
Types of Identity Theft
Financial Identity Fraud
Financial identity theft I the most common theft where an offender uses the victim’s identification to access their finances. The crime includes using credit cards without the owner’s permission, hacking a victim’s bank account, and opening a bank account using the victim’s personal information (Burnes et al., 2017). The individual can use the information to make cash withdrawals or payments using credit cards credited to the owner’s account. Offenders obtain the victims’ information from various sources, particularly the internet, through hacking databases connected to the victims’ personal information.
Synthetic Identity Theft
Synthetic identity fraud involves forging an identity using another person’s information. For instance, the offender may obtain a victim’s social security number and use it to obtain sensitive information that facilitates a fake profile. With the fake profile, the offender opens a bank account and applies for financial resources, which can incriminate the victim if they do not discover the criminal activity on time.
Criminal Identity Theft
Synthetic identity theft can lead to criminal identity theft through forged documents. Criminal identity theft occurs when an offender presents forged documents containing the victims’ details when committing criminal activity (Burnes et al., 2017). Alternatively, the offender may present the fake documents upon arrest, leading to a case of mistaken identity. Standard documents used to commit this crime include driver’s licenses and stile identity cards, where the victim has to present original copies to prove innocence.
Statutes of Identity Theft in the United States
Identity theft continues to be on the increase as more victims report cases of fraud committed using their documents. The onset of the crime dates back to the late 20th century when fraud cases were on the rise, with offenders forging personal documents to gain unauthorized immigration and financial gain (Randa, R., & Reyns). As a result, the United States Congress passed the Identity Theft and Assumption Act in 1998 to minimize and prevent the rising cases of identity fraud. Under the Amended Act, 18 USC § 1028, knowingly committing or attempting identity theft is a federal crime (Ahmed, 2020). The law applies to offenders who facilitate the crime, such as assisting in forgeries or stealing personal data to commit a crime. As a federal crime, offenders are prosecuted in the District Court.
If identity theft occurs with another felony, the penalty can be more severe depending on the related crime. If the crime carries a greater or longer sentence than identity fraud, the defendant will be prosecuted according to the most severe punishment. Some states, like the Washington State Legislature, prosecute each crime separately, leading to serving sentences for both crimes (Hu et al., 2022). The penalty applies to all types of identity fraud, including credit card fraud, hacking, wire fraud, and social security identity theft.
Aggravated Identity Theft
Identity theft can be used to commit significant crimes like terrorist attacks and immigration violations. The crimes are classified as aggravated identity theft, which is prosecuted under the 2004 Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act (Ahmed, 2020). The penalty for aggravated identity theft includes two years in prison for specified crimes and an additional five years if the crime involves terrorist motives (Burnes et al., 2017). Five or two additional years are added to the sentence stipulated by the United States Sentencing Guidelines, which gives the penalty according to careful analysis of criminal activity associated with identity fraud. For instance, if the verdict alleges a domestic terrorism attempt, the guidelines will decide the sentence for the attempted terror attack and two additional years to the total sentence.
Under 18 USC § 1028, the sentence for identity fraud involving financial transfer, counterfeit documents, possession of equipment that produces forged documents, or obtaining goods fraudulently up to $1000 is 15 years and massive fines (Lippman, 2017). A conviction involving drug trafficking, prior identity theft conviction, or connections to violent crimes includes a sentence of up to twenty years in federal captivity (Ahmed, 2020). Crimes related to aiding terror attacks domestically and internationally include sentences of up to thirty years in federal prison.
Various agencies can investigate identity theft crimes depending on the gravity and type of fraud. For instance, the Federal Bureau of Investigations investigates fraud cases involving vast financial losses, such as bank transfers. The local law enforcement and secret services are in charge of minor identity fraud crimes such as credit card use of less than $ 1500 (Lippman, 2017). Additional measures against identity fraud include the Identity Theft Red Flags Rule issued by the FTC, which requires financial institutions to develop theft prevention programs that cover clients’ data. The President’s Identity Theft Task Force recommended further preventative measures against identity theft in 2007 (Ahmed, 2020). The recommended solutions include the current legislative laws in the federal criminal statute to close gaps related to identity fraud.
Handling Identity Theft as A Victim
Being a victim of identity theft is annoying and depressing, as one can incur a substantial financial loss. As a victim of identity theft, the security breach can cause health issues due to the shock of repaying unwanted and unauthorized cash debts. The offender is not liable for credit incurred while using the victim’s credit card, leading to financial setbacks. I was a victim of criminal activity early this year when someone lost my purse with identification documents and a credit card. The first step I took was to call the credit card company to report that someone had stolen their identity and used the card for unauthorized purchases. I asked the fraud department to freeze the account to prevent further credit card use. When I reached out to the credit card company, their response was quick, and I changed my login pins and passwords, which were affected immediately.
I followed up on the account freezing request with a written complaint against fraud from the company’s fraud dispute forms. I requested the statements indicating the fraudulent activities on the card and set them to the billing inquiries as evidence. For future prevention measures against using my credit card and bank account without permission, I placed a fraud alert through a credit bureau. The alert facilitates identity verification before obtaining a new credit card, limiting the offender’s ability to open another account in my name. With the account secured, I reported the crime to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), including reports on all unauthorized transactions. The commission and law enforcement have online forms and contact numbers for easy access and reporting of identity theft.
Once I obtained the Identity Theft Affidavit, I submitted it to the Metropolitan Police Department for filing and investigation. The police department requires various documents that prove one’s identity, including a copy of the FTC Identity Theft Affidavit, identification card, address, and evidence regarding identity theft. After filing, the police issued a copy of the Identity Theft Report, which I attached with the FTC affidavit to prove my identity theft in businesses where credit transactions occurred. Obtaining the report is crucial because it can help in other areas where the offender may have used the identity to commit other crimes, such as facilitating terrorism. Further, the report is essential in clearing one’s name with the creditors and creating a recovery plan for the financial losses. The FTC provided tools for recovery at each step that I presented to the creditors and businesses where the credit transaction occurred to claim victimization.
Identity theft is an everyday crime involving stealing one’s identity for financial gain or to commit criminal activity. Identity fraudsters use various methods to obtain sensitive information, which can be used to create fake profiles or make purchases directly from credit cards. Penalties for identity theft vary depending on the criminal’s intentions and related crimes. The maximum penalty is thirty years, covering identity fraud crimes associated with facilitating terrorism or attempted terror attacks. Identity theft is hard to detect immediately and may cause much harm before discovery because it occurs without the victim’s knowledge. In document theft, law enforcement may find out about the theft before the document’s owner, leading to cases of mistaken identities. The person can report the case to FTC and the police to obtain an identity theft report, which facilitates recovery and proof of identity theft.
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