Identity Theft Research Review: Defining Identity Theft

No accepted definition of identity theft existed until Congress passed the Federal Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998. This statute defines identity theft very broadly, making it easier for prosecutors to conduct their cases. It is of little help to researchers, however, because a close examination reveals that identity theft is composed of a number of disparate types of crimes committed in widely varying venues and circumstances.

The majority of States have now passed identity theft legislation, but these statutes, while often similar, do not define identity theft consistently. (See Identity Theft Legislation.)

The difficulty in defining identity theft has been the biggest impediment to conducting scientific research on identity theft and interpreting the findings of that research. This is because a considerable number of different crimes may include the use or abuse of another's identity or identity-related factors. Such crimes include—

  • Check fraud.
  • Plastic card fraud (credit cards, check cards, debit cards, phone cards, etc.).
  • Immigration fraud.
  • Counterfeiting.
  • Forgery.
  • Terrorism using false or stolen identities.
  • Theft of various kinds (pick pocketing, robbery, burglary, or mugging to obtain the victim's personal information).
  • Postal fraud.
Date Created: June 7, 2010