Identity Theft

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Identity theft occurs when someone wrongfully obtains another’s personal information without their knowledge to commit theft or fraud.

In 1998, Congress passed the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act to address the increasing problem of identity theft. The act specifically amended Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 1028, to make it a federal crime to “knowingly transfer or use, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable state or local law.”

Along with names, Social Security numbers and dates of birth, fraudsters also use Medicare numbers, addresses, birth certificates, death certificates, passport numbers, financial account numbers (bank account or credit card), passwords (like mother’s maiden name, father’s middle name), telephone numbers, and biometric data (like fingerprints, iris scans) to commit identity theft.

The number of identity theft victims and total losses are probably much higher than what’s been reported. Because different law enforcement agencies may classify identity theft crimes differently, and because identity theft can also involve credit card fraud, Internet fraud, or mail theft—among other crimes—it’s difficult to provide a precise assessment. The FBI, however, has dedicated significant analytical resources to combating the identity theft problem and is working with other agencies to develop a system that will analyze large streams of identity theft data.

The FBI has also dedicated resources to investigating these crimes. Since fiscal year 2008 through the middle of fiscal year 2013, the number of identity theft-related crimes investigated by the Bureau across all programs have resulted in more than 1,600 convictions, $78.6 billion in restitutions, $4.6 billion in recoveries, and $6.8 billion in fines.