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Expanding Services To Reach Victims of Identity Theft and Financial Fraud
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Publication Date: October 2010
NCJ 230590
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Office of Justice ProgramsOffice for Victims of Crime
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Identity Theft and Financial Fraud

Defining Identity Theft

Identity theft and fraud comprise a wide array of crimes committed under vastly different circumstances. These crimes may include check fraud, credit/debit card fraud, immigration fraud, postal fraud, medical fraud, outright theft of various kinds (pick pocketing, robbery, burglary, or mugging to gain a victim’s personal information), and criminal activities ranging from counterfeiting and forgery to using a stolen identity to commit acts of terrorism (Newman and McNally, 2005). It may even involve combining personal information from several victims to create a fictitious identity (synthetic identity theft), which is not always detectable by the consumer(s) whose information was used.

Currently, the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network, which houses the Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse, is the most comprehensive database on consumer fraud and identity theft. Yet even this resource doesn’t capture every instance of identity theft, such as complaints about misuse of driver’s licenses received by Departments of Motor Vehicles.

Over the years, differing viewpoints from law enforcement, businesses, advocates, legislators, and special interest groups have emphasized one or another subcategory of identity theft and fraud, specifically financial identity theft. And because the crime is so varied, it’s been difficult to come up with a clear, cohesive definition of identity theft. This becomes even more challenging as new categories of identity theft arise. Until recently, little attention was given directly to identity theft victims and the myriad consequences they suffer from this crime. Their needs have often been secondary to those of businesses that have been defrauded.