Stolen identity is a danger to national security and private citizens alike. For the FBI, identity theft is nothing new — they have been investigating and arresting criminals creating and faking IDs for decades, from check forgers to fugitives on the run. But now the threat is more widespread and the scams more insidious than ever due to perpetrators malevolent use of the internet. Hackers, criminals and terrorists use their ill-gotten gains to finance their networks of criminal activity, to rob our nation of vital information, to commit fraud or launch massive cyber strikes.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation uses both its criminal and cyber resources — along with its intelligence capabilities — to identify and stop criminal gangs early and to root out the many types of perpetrators of identity theft. Computer intrusion cases—counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and criminal—are the paramount priorities of the FBI’s cyber program because of their potential to be a national security threat.
The FBI also leverages its investigative partnerships with federal, state and local law enforcement, including dedicated task forces in major cities, as well as information-sharing partnerships with every sector of business, government and education. The FBI also reaches out with information and education to make sure identity theft doesn’t happen to you.
To specifically address the growing problem of identity theft, Congress passed two laws:
- The 1998 Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act, which amended Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 1028 to make it a federal crime to “knowingly transfer or use, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable state or local law.”
- The 2004 Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act, which established penalties for “aggravated” identity theft, which is using the identity of another person to commit felony crimes, including immigration violations, theft of another’s Social Security benefits, and acts of domestic terrorism. The act required the court to sentence two additional years for a general offense and five years for a terrorism offense.
Along with names, Social Security numbers, and dates of birth, fraudsters also use Medicare numbers, addresses, birth certificates, death certificates, passport numbers, financial account numbers (i.e., bank account, credit card), passwords (e.g., mother’s maiden name, father’s middle name), telephone numbers, and biometric data, such as fingerprints and iris scans, to commit identity theft.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft complaints nearly doubled between 2010 and 2015. However, the number of identity theft victims and total losses are likely much higher than publicly-reported statistics. The FTC says it is difficult to provide precise numbers because different law enforcement agencies may classify identity theft crimes differently, and because identity theft can also involve credit card fraud, internet fraud, or mail theft, among other crimes.
Some of the more common schemes criminals are using to steal identities include email and phishing attempts to trick victims into revealing personally identifiable information (PII); “smash and grab” burglaries involving the theft of hardcopy driver’s licenses, credit cards, check books, and the like, in addition to computer and network intrusions that result in the loss of PII.
The FBI is also working to stop stolen identity to commit tax fraud. This scheme involves crooks using victims' dates of birth and Social Security numbers, and then filing fraudulent tax returns with this information, directing the refunds to prepaid debit cards or bank accounts under their control. Victims often don't realize that they have been targeted until they try to file legitimate tax returns or receive a tax audit notice from the IRS in the mail.
If you are a victim of identity theft, there are resources to help you recover. Please click on the links below for more information, and please report the theft to the FTC at https://www.identitytheft.gov/.
Links & Resources
FTC Identity Theft website
Department of Justice Identity Theft website
Center for Identity Management & Information Protection