Identity crime is among the fastest growing and most serious crimes affecting the public today. In 2007 alone approximately 8.1 million adults, or 3.58% of the adult population in the United States became victims of identity crime.1
Identity thieves are not discriminating – everyone is vulnerable, and potential victims will suffer the disruption of their personal finances, reputations and psychological trauma at the realization that their privacy has been violated. The impact of these crimes can be devastating, and the perpetrators may victimize many people in many places before they are even noticed, let alone apprehended.1
Individual citizens are not the only victims of identity crime – businesses and financial institutions suffer tremendous losses as a result of the passed costs of consumer victimization, and in some cases, corporations are victims when business identities are stolen.
The goal of identity crime investigations is the same as other criminal investigations – to identify, locate and apprehend the criminal actor. An added role of law enforcement, which is just as important, is to educate and guide the victim through the steps of recovery and prevention of further victimization. In 2007, only 27% of identity crime victims notified their local law enforcement agency and a report was taken; 8% notified the police and a report was not taken; 65% of victims did not notify police.2
State and local law enforcement agencies need to embrace a new way of thinking to help address identity crime. Responding officers must place a high priority on restoring victims to their pre-crime status. This restoration and recovery of the victim’s name and credit must be as important a goal as making an arrest leading to prosecution and conviction.
When law enforcement agencies are fully committed to providing assistance to victims, there are two benefits: it significantly reduces the frustration victims experience dealing with creditors and other bureaucracies involved, and it offers a real public relations benefit for the police department. Further, a well-written and thorough police report provides the basis for many legal protections given to identity crime victims, protections they will not be able to get elsewhere, and which are central to their recovery.
Clearance rates, normally a central concern of law enforcement in investigating crimes, are less important in this arena for a variety of reasons. Specifically, the arrest of the identity crime perpetrator(s) may happen well outside the agency’s jurisdiction. Additionally, identity crimes do not count within a jurisdiction’s Unified Crime Reports (UCR) statistics.3 For these reasons, it is critically important that cultural shifts occur in departments around this issue in order to successfully prevent and investigate these crimes given that the traditional accountability measures are not useful in tracking departmental responses.
The challenge facing law enforcement in the investigation of identity crimes lies in each agency’s ability and resources available to respond and advance the investigation. Larger departments may have investigative units solely dedicated to the investigation of identity crimes. In smaller agencies, there may be a need for more generalized skills among all officers. In either case a well-prepared first responder can positively affect the preliminary investigation and the education of the individual victim of identity crime.
12008 Identity Fraud Survey Report, Javelin Strategy & Research, February 2008, pages 2-3.
2Consumer Fraud and Identity Theft Complaint Data, January-December 2007, Federal Trade Commission, February 2008, Data from Consumer Sentinel and ID Theft Data Clearinghouse, page 14.
3Currently 26 states, plus the District of Columbia, have laws mandating law enforcement agencies to take reports from identity crime victims. Of these states, 11 have language about open case stats: Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Washington.