Identity Theft

Identity Theft

Criminal Law & Procedure: Criminal Offenses:Fraud: Credit Card Fraud

A person commits the offense of identity theft when he or she wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in a way that involves fraud or deception. A person usually obtains the other person’s personal data for economic gain.

Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing offenses in the United States. One of the reasons for this increase is that consumers often become victims of identity theft without having any direct contact with persons who wrongfully acquire their personal data. The frequent use of credit cards or debit cards and the submitting of personal information to employers and governmental agencies expose victims to persons who can access the victims’ personal data and who can use the personal data without the victims’ knowledge or permission.

Identity theft can be committed in various ways. Examples of identity theft include theft of credit cards, debit cards, and documents from a victim’s wallet, purse, mailbox, or garbage can; looking over a victim’s shoulder while the victim is using an ATM machine; “skimming” or “swiping” a credit card using an electronic device; creating emails and websites that encourage victims to enter personal data; and theft of company or government databases.

There are many ways in which a person can protect himself or herself from identity theft. Such ways include signing all credit cards and debit cards when they are received; never lending credit cards or debit cards to another person; cancelling and destroying credit cards that are not being used; only carrying identification and credit cards that are needed; paying attention to billing cycles and checking credit card and banking statements; shredding or destroying personal paperwork; not giving personal information over the telephone, the mail, or the Internet; and obtaining copies of credit reports on an annual basis.

Businesses can reduce the risk of identity theft by keeping customer data, such as credit card or bank account numbers, in a secure location; by shredding or destroying paperwork that is no longer needed; by checking online transactions to make sure that someone is not using the businesses’ web sites for fraudulent purposes; by upgrading software so that a customer’s personal data cannot be accessed by another person; and by carefully handling credit card and debit card transactions, particularly when the cardholder is not present.

If a person becomes a victim of identity theft, he or she should contact his or bank or credit company immediately if the theft involves the person’s checks, credit cards, or debit cards. The person should also file a report with his or her local police department. The person should further report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission and the various credit reporting agencies.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.