Identity Theft and Related Crimes | Overview

In 1999, Minnesota first enacted legislation specifically targeted at the burgeoning crime of identity theft. As identity theft has become more prevalent and sophisticated, the legislature has augmented various provisions intended to advance the prosecution of these offenses, aid identity theft victims, and prevent identity theft.

Overview of Identity Theft

A 2003 Federal Trade Commission survey estimated that, over the course of a year, nearly ten million Americans were victims of identity theft with losses totaling almost $53 billion ($48 billion to businesses and $5 billion to individuals).1 As one of the fastest growing crimes in the country, identity theft takes on many forms: financial theft, nonfinancial theft, account takeover theft, true party theft, reverse record identity theft, and criminal record identity theft. All have significant consequences, requiring victims to spend time and resources restoring their credit, shutting down and opening accounts, filling out forms, and attending court proceedings. Victims may lose the ability to use credit, cash checks, obtain credit, or purchase a home or car. In insidious cases, one could be arrested for crimes committed by an identity thief.

Minnesota’s identity theft law applies to various forms of identity theft. In reviewing the law, it is useful to discern their differences.2

Financial and Nonfinancial Identity Theft

Identity theft can be broken down into two main categories: financial and nonfinancial. In a case of financial identity theft, the identity thief uses personal information to access bank accounts, obtain credit cards, or charge purchases. Nonfinancial identity theft typically involves using personal information to obtain telephone services, rent apartments, avoid prosecution, or secure a job. It also includes altering passports or other identification documents to obtain entry into a country.

True Party Fraud vs. Account Takeover

Financial and nonfinancial identity theft can be further broken down according to whether a thief accesses old accounts or creates new ones. In “true party” frauds, the thief pretends to be the victim by using pieces of personal information to obtain new credit cards, open bank accounts, apply for loans, or rent apartments. In the case of “account takeover” frauds, the thief gains access to a victim’s existing accounts to steal money or assets. The thief may redirect a victim’s mail and have additional cards on the victim’s account sent to the thief.

Reverse Record Identity Theft

A less commonly known type of identity theft is reverse record identity theft. This type of theft occurs when the thief uses the victim’s identity to prevent someone else from detecting the thief’s criminal history. The classic case involves a thief using another’s identity to apply for a job because the thief wants his or her criminal history record concealed from a prospective employer (e.g., background checks).

Criminal Record Identity Theft

Another relatively unknown type of nonfinancial identity theft is criminal record identity theft. In such cases, the identity thief commits a separate crime (e.g., DWI, traffic violation) but provides the victim’s name and address to avoid prosecution and a criminal record. A victim may only become aware of her predicament upon receipt of a citation notice or a notice of an outstanding arrest warrant. In egregious cases, the victim may be arrested for crimes committed by the identity thief.

This and any related posts have been adopted from the Minnesota House of Representatives Research Department’s Information Brief, Identity Theft and Related Crimes, written by legislative analyst Rebecca Pirius.

1 Department of Justice, FBI, Financial Crimes Report to the Public, May 2005.

2 This information brief is limited to an overview of criminal provisions. Minnesota law also contains civil provisions relating to the prevention of identity theft, including data privacy, consumer rights, credit reporting, and unauthorized transaction liability. See Minn. Stat. chs. 13, 13C, 325E, 325F, 325G, and 325M.

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