Graduation Year

2003

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

Criminology

Major Professor

Lynch, Michael J.

Co-Major Professor

Schuck, Amie

Keywords

economic crime, trend analysis, fraud

Abstract

This thesis is an investigation of identity theft, although not a new crime it has recently attracted public concern. This concern has led to both federal and state governments to establish new laws to provide increased protection. Government agencies and the media have warned the public that an individual's social security number and other personal information are the tools that unscrupulous criminals can use to gain access to an identity. Once your identity is assumed criminals can use that new identity to obtain goods and services freely available in this world of instant credit lines. The purpose of this study is to examine the magnitude and characteristics of identity theft. The objective is to determine if government official's claims and the media's portrayal of the substantial rise in identity theft incidents are supported empirically.

The data for this study comes from police records located in one southern-metropolitan city; from this two separate data sets were drawn. A case study methodology was selected for this project. The results indicate that the identity theft trend is different than the trends for other theft related offenses -- credit card fraud, check fraud, robbery and motor vehicle theft. The data suggest that identity theft is increasing more rapidly than the other theft orientated offenses. However, future research should be conducted to help determine if the trend found in this study is a more a reflection of criminal behavior then of changes in reporting. Additionally, the available literature on identity theft suggested that attaining an arrest for identity theft is especially difficult. The empirical evidence found in this study is mixed on this point.

Finally, the demographic characteristics of identity thieves in the area of study do not conform to other economically motivated offenders. African American female offenders make up a significantly large proportion of offenders. Determining the cause of these patterns would at this point be premature, but the existence of patterns warrants further research. In conclusion, this study finds support for the expressed belief by media, private organizations, and government officials that there is greater reporting and recoding of identity theft.

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