What is criminal identity theft?Identity theft can be a very frustrating and upsetting experience. Whether an identity thief exploits your finances, your medical history or your online accounts, the experience will always feel like an abrasive personal violation. One form that can truly ruin your life is criminal identity theft, which is arguably the worst type of identity theft imaginable. This rare, but frightening type of identity theft can not only result in financial harm – much like all the other types of identity theft we’ve previously covered – but it also usually causes irreparable reputational damage that can ruin your relationships and social standing within society. Continue reading as we go over in detail everything you need to know about criminal identity theft.

What is criminal identity theft?

The term “criminal identity theft” can be a bit confusing, as all identity theft constitutes a crime (in many cases a federal crime). However, criminal identity theft most commonly refers to scenarios in which the perpetrator of a crime goes by a name that isn’t theirs, thus tying an innocent individual to an offense that they had no involvement with. For example, if an identity thief is pulled over for reckless driving, they may give the police officer your name and a fake ID with your information on it. Although official numbers on criminal identity theft are sparse, it might not be as rare as you think. The Identity Theft Resource Center, a renowned non-profit identity theft resource, stated in its 2016 Aftermath report that 20 percent of the respondents they contacted were victims of criminal identity theft, and figures from other sources suggest that at least 12% of identity theft victims experience criminal identity theft in some form.

How does criminal identity theft occur?

This type of identity theft can occur in one of several ways:

  • Stolen or forged ID. Fake IDs aren’t just for teens trying to get into clubs and bars. Misplaced wallets, passports and state-issued IDs are a boon to criminals, but sometimes victim’s identities can be forged from scratch. In rare and extreme cases, an identification is cloned by hackers who don’t know the victim or have access to their physical ID.
  • Synthetic identity theft. We’ve spoken several times about synthetic identity theft, but while we’ve discussed how this type of identity theft occurs, we’ve never talked about it in the context of criminal identity theft. Given the way that the credit monitoring system works, using synthetic identity theft to combine various facets of someone’s identity to commit crimes and fraud is, unfortunately, easy. With someone’s social security number or even partial social security number, one could mask their identity and commit financial fraud or other types of scams, including crimes related to criminal identity theft.
  • Lying. As silly as it sounds, in some instances, perpetrators might simply give law enforcement or other officials inaccurate personal details, which of course, will implicate identity theft victims.

What are the consequences of criminal identity theft?

The consequences of criminal identity theft are some of the most variable because they’re dependent on a large number of factors. Namely, the crime committed by the perpetrator as well as the type of identification used by the perpetrator will determine the extent to which their bad deeds will stick to the person they’re impersonating. There are dozens of stories, each illustrating a different side of criminal identity theft. In Brittany Ossenfort’s case, aside from the initial headache of dealing with the misuse of her identity, the situation was mostly resolved once she received a clearance letter absolving her of the crime committed in her name. For Chaz Epps, his brother’s abuse of his name prevented him from having access to credit and housing for long time. Sometimes, the damage is mostly economic and reputational, as was the case for Marcus Calvillo and Simon Bunce, who were both accused of being sex offenders.

How can you prevent criminal identity theft?

There are no special tricks to preventing criminal identity theft, but like with all identity theft, falling victim to one type makes you vulnerable to the others. Aside from the standard advice offered to prevent most types of identity theft – reviewing credit reports (all three of them), financial accounts and having good online and offline security – you should consider the following:

  • Review public records whenever possible. Accessing your public records is how credit bureaus and other entities determine if you’re trustworthy, and as such, you should view yours from time to time to see if you have records that you’re unaware of. You can do so online with people search services or by identifying the local agency that has the records you want to see. To specifically check your criminal record, you’ll want to start by going to your county’s Superior Court website — Google the name of your county and “Superior Court” to find it. Keep in mind, states will likely have slight differences in how records can be accessed, but the superior court is a good starting place.
  • Consider identity theft protection. While you can attempt to monitor all your records, including your public records, yourself, the truth is that there’s only so much a person can do. That’s where an identity theft protection can step in. These services not only monitor your information on the Internet black market and public records, but all of the top-rated services monitor all three of your credit reports, allowing you to stay on top of every aspect of your identity. Visit our identity theft protection reviews to find a service that’s right for you.

What should you do if you become a victim?

When it comes to addressing its effects, criminal identity theft is its own beast, at least compared to other types of identity theft. This is especially true because many people find out that they’re a victim in different ways (e.g., a warrant for their arrest) long after their identity was stolen. Regardless, in many cases, you should consider doing the following:

  • Contact the police/file a police report. You should file a police report if you’ve lost any personal identification that you suspect could be used against you. In the instance that you’ve actually been associated with a crime you didn’t commit, explain the situation to the police in the jurisdiction where the crime occurred and ask for copies of all arrest records, so that you can disprove your involvement.
  • Correct the record. Once you’ve successfully gotten the arrest records, you can use your own records to prove your innocence. You could, for example, have the police compare your fingerprints to the perpetrator’s fingerprints, depending on the crime. After doing this, you can petition the local court to change the name on the arrest record to a John/Jane Doe or to the name of the perpetrator if you’re aware of their identity. You can also ask for a record of the court’s actions to keep with you as validation for any potential future misunderstandings. Additionally, asking for a clearance letter from the police department that initially charged you with a crime is a good option worth considering. Aside from this, some states, like Arkansas and Virginia, have what are known as Identity Passports, or an official validation of one’s identity after identity theft, which protect the victim from being further associated. Other states, like California, have entire offices designed to deal with identity theft. If you’re having trouble establishing your innocence, contact your state’s attorney general for help and access to your state’s identity theft resources. You may also want to enlist the help of an attorney if you need some extra assistance.
  • Check your credit reports and other records. As with all types of identity theft, after you discover criminal identity theft, you should immediately check your credit reports, financial accounts and medical statement of benefits, so that you can identify and correct any inaccuracies. Additionally, be sure to contact any company, bank or organization that has your personal information and let them know you fell victim to identity theft, so they can help you take steps to protect your accounts.

Criminal identity theft is scary, but it’s not the only form of identity theft you should be familiar with. To learn more about the various types of identity theft, continue reading our identity theft 101 series.