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What is identity theft?

Identity theft is a type of crime in which a person obtains another person's personal information without their permission and then uses this information for illegal purposes. It generally involves either a type of deception or fraud.

In most cases, people commit identity theft in an attempt to profit at someone's expense. As an example, a person may steal another person's identity, then obtain credit cards in the person's name. They then use the cards to purchase a large amount of merchandise. They can also obtain loans in the person's name, buy vehicles or even pay their utilities, all while making the victim of the identity theft responsible for the debt.

While there are many ways to commit identity theft, the most common is to use a person's Social Security information, bank account information, or credit card number. This type of information is considered unique to each individual and is typically used as a way to identify a person, hence making it an identity theft.

Although identity theft is now considered a federal offense, this was not always the case. It did not become a federal crime until 1998. One of the cases that prompted Congress to take action involved a convicted felon who stole a person's identity and then proceeded to charge over $100,000 on credit cards in the person's name. The thief also obtained a federal home loan, handguns and motorcycles while using the victim's personal identification as his own.

The amount of damage done by identity theft can vary greatly. Defendants who are facing identity theft charges may benefit from seeking the advice and representation of an experienced Wisconsin criminal attorney.

Source: The United States Department of Justice, "What Are Identity Theft and Identity Fraud?" Sep. 04, 2014

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