Should we refer to identity theft as identity fraud and only when such crime occurs? To answer this question, we need to define what identity theft is – in general, identity theft has been described as using someone else’s identity component (s) to commit various frauds. However, identity theft can occur without resulting in any identity fraud or crime with no consequences at all, although fraud is more likely the intended purpose in most cases. Therefore, without “fraud” which is the intent and most likely the end result of most identity theft cases, there is no harm in the act of identity theft. Maybe disclosure and privacy of some of our personal information such as our health records are of concern to us, but a health related fraud using someone else’s identity is probably more deadly and important than just disclosure of that health information. Therefore, identity fraud, which is the possible end result of identity theft, is a better term to define this crime. Here’s why; 1) fraud is the result and intended purpose of identity theft, 2) our identity is never totally lost or stolen, 3) identity theft may not result in any fraud, and 4) authorized sharing of our identity may result in fraud without identity theft. Let’s analyze all four points and determine why the term identity theft may be misleading while identity crime or fraud may be more appropriate.
First, identity theft without committing identity fraud is like rubbing a bank without taking the money. What is the importance of a robbery if money is not stolen? What is the meaning of identity theft if no fraud is committed? Identity theft by itself means nothing if no crime is committed except maybe compromising the privacy of our personal information. I may be worried if my passport is stolen, but if criminals are not able to use it due to improved controls at the airports or within the passport itself, then no fraud can be committed and no harm is done. Therefore, a committed fraud is more important than the act of identity theft itself. In most cases, it is only upon the discovery of a fraud that we realize our identity component (s) have been stolen.
Second, while criminals may use some of our identity components to commit various crimes, we are still capable of functioning within the society using our other identity components. OK, we may not be able to use the card that was stolen or apply for new credit lines due to the mess in our credit reports, but we can still use our other existing credit cards, go to the gym with our membership cards, and travel with our passports depending on which piece of our identity was stolen. You see, when we say our identity is stolen, it almost sounds like we no longer possess our entire identity and can’t function at all as if it was a piece of lost object like a cell phone that we can’t use until we find it. We can’t lose part of the cell phone; we either have it or don’t have it but we could lose part of our identity and still be able to use the other components of our identity. Identity theft almost sounds as if we are victims of Amnesia because someone stole our memory and we can’t remember any thing. On the other hand, if we are victims of identity fraud, it means someone has borrowed pieces of our identity to take certain actions in our name while we still possess and use the rest of our identity components.
Third, although rare, not all identity theft cases may result in identity theft fraud. For example, some of identity components like a passport can be stolen from our car, but would the stolen passport be used to illegally get on a plane? Not necessarily because the passport was stolen as part of another illegal act; car theft to sell its parts. Therefore, not all identity theft cases result in identity fraud. The term identity theft is being casually used to describe many situations even if there were no identity components stolen. For example, sometimes the term identity theft is referred to cases where identity was lost or personal information was disclosed but not really stolen for the purposes of committing fraud. The casual use of the term "identity theft" in our society reduces the importance of the term by falsely inflating the seriousness of the situation.
Lastly, identity fraud can occur without identity theft. Even in a case of authorized identity share that we are fully aware of, we can still function within the society, which brings up my next question; do some people knowingly share their identity components with others to commit illegal acts or identity fraud? You bet they do, especially if sharing some of their identity components with others do not result in dire consequences for themselves and can even help others like getting medical help. Are these identity frauds considered the results of identity theft? Not really if they were shared willingly, right? There is no theft when information is shared willingly. Then, why do we refer to these fraud cases as identity theft cases when in fact the identity was shared willingly? This may surprise you but some people willingly share their identities with their friends, family members, and coworkers for various reasons like getting medical help, getting to a physical location, which requires a badge or traveling to other countries. Although, these acts are considered illegal and constitute as identity fraud, they are not the result of identity theft but rather the results of authorized identity share.
In summary, the term "identity fraud" on top of the list of identity crimes is the real crime which can be committed by an authorized (sharing) or unauthorized (identity theft) takeover of our identities, and not all cases deserve the term "identity theft", especially when nothing is stolen and no fraud is committed.
Visit the victim solutions page if you are facing identity fraud.