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Criminal Identity Theft: A Guide to the Crime

What is criminal identity theft?

Criminal identity theft occurs when an imposter provides to law enforcement another person’s name and personal information (such as a drivers’ license, date of birth, or Social Security Number) during an investigation or upon arrest.  This includes the use of counterfeit documents using another person’s data.  The imposter may fraudulently obtain a driver’s license or identification card in the victim’s name and provide that identification document to law enforcement.  Or, the imposter, without showing any photo identification, verbally provides the name and personal information of another individual.

In many cases, the imposter is cited for a traffic violation or for a misdemeanor violation.  The imposter signs the citation and promises to appear in court.  If the imposter does not appear in court, the magistrate may issue a bench warrant, but the warrant of arrest will be under the victim’s name.  The identity theft victim will probably not know there is a warrant of arrest issued under his or her name.  The victim may unexpectedly be detained pursuant to a routine traffic stop and then subsequently arrested because of the outstanding bench warrant.

In some cases, the imposter will appear in court for the traffic or misdemeanor violation and plead guilty without the victim being aware of this event.  This in turn establishes a criminal record for those actions; however, that record is now in the victim’s name. In other cases, the imposter is arrested and booked at the county jail for a felony or another serious public offense, such as a DUI.  This arrest or court information is then recorded in the countywide data base and is usually transferred to the state’s criminal records database. From there, it may be forwarded to the national crime index database, at the National Crime Information Center (NCIC).

Criminal Record Databases

A criminal record is created when the imposter is first “booked,” or a warrant of arrest is issued.  The problem is that the information in the criminal records database is for that of the victim, not the imposter.  The information is also likely to be entered into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database.

Some identity theft victims, unaware of the earlier criminal activity by the imposter, may learn of the impersonation when the victim is denied employment or terminated from employment. In these cases, the employer likely conducted a background investigation and had relied upon the criminal history found under the victim’s name.  The employer is legally obligated to inform the victim of the reason for the rejection of employment.  The burden of clearing one’s name within the criminal justice system falls primarily on the victim.  The victim must act quickly and assertively to minimize the damage. The responsibility to correct the erroneous data in the various criminal justice computer systems lies with the officials working within the criminal justice system.  There are no clearly established procedures for clearing one’s wrongful criminal record. 

The purpose of this guide is to provide information on the steps you must take to clear your name. Be aware that the procedures to correct the record within the criminal justice databases are likely to be somewhat different from state to state, and even from jurisdiction to jurisdiction within the same state.

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