What Is Criminal Identity Theft?

Of all the different types of identity theft, criminal identity theft is the most serious.  Though the name is a little misleading since all identity theft is a crime, the  California Attorney General’s Office defines criminal identity theft as “when someone cited or arrested for a crime uses another person’s name and identifying information, resulting in a criminal record being created in that person’s name.” In other words, criminal identity theft is when someone commits a crime and pretends to be you. This can mean that you have to pay the consequences for someone else’s illegal actions.

How Can It Happen?

As with many types of identity theft, criminal identity theft begins when a fraudster obtains or forges your Social Security number, driver’s license, passport, or another key piece of identification. But the difference is that rather than use it to open a credit card or drain your bank account, criminal identity thieves use your information as their get-out-of-jail-free card.

This often happens well before the victim is even aware that their identity has been stolen. For instance, let’s say an identity thief gets pulled over for speeding and presents a forged copy of your driver’s license. More likely than not, that person will not actually pay the ticket. It’s unlikely the police will actively pursue such a small offense, but if left unresolved, it may lead to a bench warrant. This could mean that if you are pulled over for a routine moving violation, a small infraction could mean big trouble.

But criminal identity theft can have far greater consequences than delinquent speeding tickets. If a scammer commits a more serious crime, gives your name and information to the police, then fails to appear in court, it may result in an arrest warrant issued in your name. Not only could this result in jail time for a crime you didn’t commit, it may result in significant financial and personal hardships, not to mention the inevitably long and arduous process of clearing your name. 

The Hidden Cost of Free WiFi

One often overlooked way identity thieves may access your personal information is through unsecured WiFi networks. Public Wifi is a broad term for open wireless networks found in cafes, malls, restaurants, hotels, airports, and other places where people generally want to access the internet. Largely seen as a ubiquitous convenience, few think twice before connecting. But these open networks often pose a risk to users.

Because they’re built for convenience and not for security, public WiFi networks are very rarely encrypted and as a result, they’re susceptible to cybercriminal attacks. As the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) defines it, “Encryption scrambles the information you send over the internet into a code so it’s not accessible to others.” Since information on public WiFi is not encrypted, it’s easier for others to intercept, and exploit that information.

This might not matter much if you’re just scanning the day’s headlines. But if you’re logging into your bank, or even onto your email, this means anyone on the network may be able to access your passwords and with them, all of your information. 

What To Do About It?

If you find out that you have become a victim of criminal identity theft, the first thing you should do is file a report with the FTC and work with the arresting agency directly to start the process of expunging your record.  

In this worst case scenario, it’s far better to find out you’ve been a victim of criminal identity theft before the authorities arrest you under false charges.  For Discover cardmembers, Discover Identity Theft Protection monitors federal, state and municipal records for criminal arrests, court bookings and more. It also can help you protect your identity by scanning thousands of risky websites for your personal information, monitoring all three credit bureaus for key changes1, and more to see if your information is out there.

If we should find something, 100 percent US–based resolution agents are available to guide you to help clear your name. Plus get up to $1 million in identity theft insurance2. For just $15 per month, Discover Identity Theft Protection helps you to safeguard your good name. 

 

1 – Key changes include: New accounts, credit inquiries, address changes, potentially negative information such as delinquencies, and public records.

2 – Identity Theft Insurance is underwritten by insurance company subsidiaries or affiliates of American International Group, Inc. (AIG).  175 Water Street, New York, New York 10038.  Please refer to the actual policies for terms, conditions, and exclusions of coverage.  Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions. 

Legal Disclaimer: This site is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for professional advice. The material on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice and does not indicate the availability of any Discover product or service. It does not guarantee that Discover offers or endorses a product or service. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.