Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2005, $118,167)
Over the past several years, the United States has enjoyed a significant decline in rates of serious street crime. However, crimes of fraud continue to increase and this trend is expected to continue. According to the Federal Trade Commission's data on fraud, 516,740 complaints of fraud were filed in the year 2003. Forty-two percent (214,905) of these complaints were identity theft making it the most prevalent form of fraud in the United States. In fact, identity theft is one of the fastest growing and most expensive financial crimes in America, costing consumers an estimated $5 billion and businesses $48 billion each year. Unfortunately, the average arrest rate is less than 5% of all reported cases (Fraud International, 2004), therefore, we know very little about those engaging in identity theft.
This proposal outlines a study of identity theft offenders. This research will provide an enhanced understanding of aspects of identity theft and its enforcement that cause greatest fear of detection and arrest on the part of its perpetrators. It will also generate an improved understanding of offenders' knowledge of and responses to past enforcement efforts by state and local authorities. The findings can be used to craft prevention and enforcement efforts with improved potential for curbing identity theft. Last, the proposed research will provide a picture of identity thieves and theft organizations.
Specifically, the applicant proposes to interview convicted identity thieves to explore their life experiences, their perspectives and criminal careers, the apparent rewards and risks they associate with identity theft, their awareness of and responses to previous enforcement efforts, and measures they employ to minimize effective victim complaints and law enforcement action.
Data on identity thieves will be drawn from ethnographic interviews of approximately 50 convicted offenders incarcerated for identity theft in one or more federal prisons.