Identity theft is one of the fastest growing and most serious economic crimes in the United States. Identity theft affects financial institutions and more importantly the person's whose identifying information has been illegally acquired and used. It is estimated that identity theft has the potential to cost an estimated $1.5 billion in the United States alone.
The target of identity theft is to obtain “personal identifying information” that will enable the thief to assume the identity of another person for a criminal purpose. “Personal identifying information” means the name, telephone number, driver’s license number, social security number, place of employment, employee identification number, mother’s maiden name, demand deposit account number, savings account number, or credit card number of an individual person.
Identity theft affects institutions financially and has financial and personal costs to the victim. Identity theft victims may sustain monetary loss, damage to credit standing, loss of personal reputation, civil lawsuits, criminal suits, and other traumatic consequences. In some cases the victim has become the subject of criminal investigation because of crimes committed by the perpetrator.
Anyone can become a victim of identity theft. There is no discrimination basis when it comes to identity theft. The perpetrators of these crimes only care about one thing and that is to receive valuable goods, services, or money.
Criminals have found ingenious ways to obtain your personal information. It might be as simple as stealing the mail from your mailbox or searching your thrash for personal information. It can also be as complicated as “skimming.” “Skimming,” is the electronic lifting of the data encoded on a valid credit or ATM card and transferring that data to a counterfeit card. In order to “skim” a credit or ATM card the perpetrators need access to it. For example, an identity thief may work or recruit someone that works at a restaurant, retail store, or other establishments to “skim” the credit or ATM cards.
Some identity thieves prey exclusively on senior citizens. They will conduct a “pretext’ call. “Pretext” call is when a thief telephones the victim or contacts the victims via the Internet and request that the victim provide personal information. Most commonly, the thief will claim that the victim has won a prize or has been selected for a special promotion, which requires the victim to provide personal information.
Identity theft consists of a two-part crime. First they take personal identifying information, then use the information to receive services, buy goods, or receive money. Some of the identity theft cases require two different reports. For example the thief may have stolen your mail at your residence in Cupertino. That part of the crime is the Sheriff’s Office jurisdiction. The thief then uses the credit card in a Target store in the City of Los Angeles. The second part of the crime occurred in the Los Angeles Police Department's jurisdiction. In some cases the Sheriff’s Office will forward the cases to the appropriate jurisdiction. However, detectives in the Property Crime Unit try to work a large portion of the cases that are filed.
The Sheriff’s Office actively investigates such cases of identity theft. The number of identity theft cases is growing rapidly in the valley. It usually takes weeks or even months to locate a suspect in an identity theft case. That is why it is important for the citizens to take crime prevention measures to ensure that they do not become a victim of identity theft.