NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Worrisome Rise in Identity Thefts

April 3, 2000

It would be difficult to overestimate the benefits of the Computer Age and the Internet. But law enforcement officials are increasingly concerned over one drawback: the extent to which it makes identity theft easy.

Experts warn that websites are selling all kinds of personal information which enable thieves to obtain credit cards and loans, make purchases and even acquire residences in someone else's name.

Identity theft starts when thieves misappropriate someone's personal information -- address, date of birth, Social Security information or other data -- to get fake driver's licenses and credit cards.

  • Acquiring another person's Social Security data is so simple that the Social Security Administration received more than 30,000 complaints about the misuse of its numbers last year -- up from just 7,868 in 1997.
  • While credit card fraud stemming from identity theft is still a small percentage of the hundreds of billions of dollars in credit card purchases each year, several card companies are building a database with assistance from the Secret Service so they can share information and identify common geographic locations where credit card fraud occurs.
  • Federal investigators have encountered cases in which credit card numbers stolen in the U.S. have been used a day or two later in Tokyo or Hong Kong.
  • Not only must victims endure lengthy, painstaking struggles to clean up their credit records, they sometimes find themselves saddled with false criminal histories.

Comprehensive figures on computer-related identity theft are not yet available, in part because the category is not broken out as a separate crime in analyses of larger fraud schemes.

Source: Timothy L. O'Brien, "Officials Worried Over a Sharp Rise in Identity Theft," New York Times, April 3, 2000.


Browse more articles on Government Issues