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Identity Theft

Identity theft and identity fraud are terms used to refer to all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person's personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain.

Identity Theft Laws

Identity theft laws in most states make it a crime to misuse another person's identifying information -- whether personal or financial. Such data (including social security numbers, credit history, and PIN numbers) is often acquired through 1) the offender's unlawful access to information from government and financial entities, or 2) lost or stolen mail, wallets and purses, identification, and credit or debit cards. Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the nation, robbing its victims of time, money and peace of mind. Identity thieves often use the Internet but also can obtain sensitive personal data from trash cans and other unsecured locations.

Clueless Identity Theft

Unlike a robbery or burglary, identity theft often occurs without the victim's knowledge. Most identity theft victims only find out after they see strange charges on their credit card statements or apply for a loan. While prevention is always the best policy, sometimes personal information is exposed through security breaches at banks or companies with which you do business. Thus, identity theft can happen to even well-prepared consumers.

While your fingerprints are unique to you and cannot be given to someone else for their use, your personal data can be used, if they fall into the wrong hands, to personally profit at your expense.

In one notorious case of identity theft, the criminal, a convicted felon, incurred more than $100,000 of credit card debt, obtained a federal home loan, and bought homes, motorcycles, and handguns in the victim's name. He even called his victim to taunt him. The criminal served a brief sentence for making a false statement to procure a firearm, but made no restitution to his victim for any of the harm he had caused. This case, and others like it, prompted Congress in 1998 to create a new federal offense of identity theft.

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