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Identity Theft: Assessing Offenders' Strategies and Perceptions of Risk

NCJ Number
Date Published
June 2007
87 pages
Semistructured interviews with 59 identity thieves incarcerated in Federal prisons determined the methods they used to obtain information on the victims whose identities they used to steal money and/or goods, their motivations for identity theft, perceptions of risk, justifications for their crimes, and how their crimes might have been prevented.
The most common method used to obtain the information needed to assume the identities of their victims was to buy personal information (social security numbers, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, etc.) from employees of various businesses and government agencies that maintain key information on customers/clients and citizens. Many offenders obtained information from mail stolen from residential and business mailboxes and trashcans. It was also common for the thieves to use information on people they knew. A variety of methods were used to convert identity information to cash and/or goods. Many offenders used the identity information to make their own checks or have someone else make them. Information was also used to order new credit cards and cash checks. Stolen information was sometimes used to apply for various loans, most often mortgages. Among the countermeasures recommended are controlled access to business and residential mailboxes and dumpsters, monitoring the disposition of documents, limiting the number of employees with access to sensitive information, background checks of employees, requiring passwords to withdraw money, and advertising the legal consequences of identity theft. The motivations and justifications for their crimes were to upgrade their lifestyles quickly under the perceptions that there was low risk of being detected and identified and that they were not actually harming anyone. The knowledge and personal characteristics that facilitated their crimes were good social skills; technical knowledge about producing fraudulent documents; and knowing how banks, credit agencies, and retail businesses operate. 1 table, 71 references, and appended interview guide

Date Published: June 1, 2007