Interesting Ways Thieves Steal Identities

Posted on in Criminal Defense

steal identities, Chicago Criminal Defense AttorneysWhen one considers identity theft, cases of lost debit cards, stolen online banking passwords, replicated fake credit cards, and the occasional stolen social security number may come to mind. As times change and as technology advances, however, modern day thieves are constantly discovering new methods of accessing personal information and stealing identities.

In addition to the longstanding basic methods of identity theft, such as stealing mail or dumpster diving for wallets or personal financial information, which are already difficult to stop, American authorities are now forced to deal with even more creative and crafty methods thieves are employing to steal identities. The problem is so large that approximately 15 million Americans have their identities stolen and used fraudulently each year.

Identity theft in America alone accounts for over $50 billion in losses annually and it continues to be a major problem. The following includes several methods thieves have used to steal people’s identities, and steps individuals can take to protect themselves.

Filing a Tax Return in Another Person's Name

Every American has to file their taxes by April 15th of each year. The process is relatively simple; however, did you know there have been numerous instances reported by the IRS of tax related identity theft? This form of identity theft occurs when a criminal files a fraudulent tax return in another person's name, using his or her Social Security number. This can mean that the victim may not receive his or her tax return or refund, may be notified that he or she owes more taxes, may hear from the IRS that two returns have been filed, or may face the consequences of failing to file his or her taxes due to appearing to have not filed correctly.

As this problem continues to grow, the IRS has recommended that citizens take precautions. They recommend that people protect their computers with firewalls and passwords, refrain from carrying social security cards and other important documents whenever possible, and use caution regarding suspicious emails, websites, or requests for access to personal information. Methods are in place to help victims, and anyone who notices anything suspicious pertaining to taxes is asked to contact the IRS immediately.

Accessing Frequent Flyer Miles Accounts

Essentially, anything of value that a person may own, a thief would likely take. For example, in December 2014, around 10,000 accounts held by American Airlines and United Airlines users were hacked. Not only were the thieves able to access personal information on all of the users, but they were able to use the victim’s accounts to spend air miles to book free flights and purchase upgrades.

Victims were fortunately able to get their miles back, but experts say this case is a great reminder of the importance of changing passwords often and keeping even seemingly insignificant accounts like air miles or rewards programs protected. If it has value, or has personal information attached to it in some way, then the potential is there for theft.

Accessing Health Insurance

Known as medical identity theft, thieves are able to access medical services and treatments basically by using another's identity. By impersonating another individual, thieves can access his or her insurance and use it to see a doctor, receive prescriptions, and access other medical care and procedures. Additionally, once medical records are mixed with the victim’s, the victim’s care, insurance records, and credit report may be affected. Repairing any damage caused by medical theft takes serious time and money.

Unfortunately, many victims do not even notice the theft until they read their Explanation of Benefits statement closely. Experts recommend that everyone read their statements closely and understand their policy, so they will be alerted quickly of any fraudulent activity.

Committing Crimes While Impersonating Another 

While cases of criminal identity theft are rare, they do happen and can lead to serious problems for the victim. This type of theft occurs when a criminal uses someone else’s identity while committing a crime. If the crime is caught by police, the criminal will impersonate the victim of their identity theft, thus leading authorities to believe that the victim actually committed the crime.

In most cases, the victim does not notice that this has occurred until he or she is stopped by a police officer for another violation, and then informed that he or she has a criminal record or warrants out for his or her arrest. Or, the victim will submit to a background check while applying for a new job and will discover that he or she has a criminal record.

Unfortunately, in cases where this does happen, convincing the authorities that the victim is not the actual perpetrator of the crime is difficult. The victim may end up being arrested and held for a crime that he or she did not commit.

Although cases of criminal identity theft are few and far between, they do happen to many victims each year, and detecting and preventing the theft is difficult. The legal system should be able to work in the victim’s favor once the theft is detected. However, unlike credit card and other more common forms of identity theft, there are no real protections in place for people whose criminal records are tainted by someone else.

Hacking into Social Media Accounts

This is another not-so-common form of identity theft, but as social media sites like Facebook and Instagram continue to rise in popularity, it is worth noting.

Identity thieves have been known to access other people’s social media accounts and convince their online friends to send them money or access to personal information. It is a scam known as “social engineering,” and anyone on social media is susceptible. Those with lots of action on their social media pages are the most at risk. Thieves use the reputations of their victims to ask for money, and friends assume that the request is due to an actual emergency, and send the money.

Again, experts suggest changing social media passwords often and using different passwords for each social media site.

What Happens If You Are Charged With Identity Theft?

In Illinois, cases of identity theft are treated very seriously. Illinois state law defines identity theft as any case where a person uses the identity of another to obtain credit, money, goods or services. While there are several different types of identity theft, Illinois residents should expect severe consequences if they are found guilty of identity theft.

In cases where the goods or money stolen is less than $300, those found guilty face a Class 4 Felony which carries a possible sentence of up to $25,000 in fines and up to 3 years in an Illinois state penitentiary. Identity theft involving amounts between $301 and $2,000 of stolen property is considered a Class 3 Felony, and those who commit this level of identity theft face up to 5 years in prison and fines of up to $25,000. Anywhere between $2,001 and $10,000 in stolen money or property is considered a Class 2 Felony, and those found guilty face up to $25,000 in fines and up to 7 years in prison. Finally, any identity theft over $10,000 is considered a Class X Felony in Illinois, and anyone found guilty faces fines of up to $25,000 and up to 30 years of prison time. Those found guilty of identity theft with preexisting criminal backgrounds should expect even harsher punishments.

Due to the severe consequences associated with being found guilty of identity theft, it is important that anyone charged with identity theft seek the help of a skilled criminal defense attorney. If you are in the Chicago area, the skilled criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of Hal M. Garfinkel LLC, Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney are available to assist you today. Our Chicago criminal defense attorneys will work tirelessly to ensure you get the best possible outcome of your case. Our office is reachable 24 hours a day, seven days a week, online or over the phone at 312-629-0669. Call today to schedule your free consultation.

Back to Top