In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Identity Theft

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Defining Identity Theft
  • Data Sources
  • International Trends in Identity Theft
  • Victim Characteristics
  • Offender Characteristics
  • Identity Theft Techniques
  • Offender Typologies
  • Theoretical Perspectives

Criminology Identity Theft
Heith Copes, Anastasia Brown
  • LAST REVIEWED: 04 August 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 May 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0099


No precise definition of identity theft exists, but most agree that it occurs when someone misuses another individual’s personal information (e.g., name, Social Security number, financial account information, or driver’s license number) to commit fraud. Typically, the types of crimes that fall under the identity theft umbrella include new account fraud (where fraudsters create new bank and credit card accounts in the victims’ names), existing non-credit card account fraud (where the offenders take over existing financial accounts), and existing credit card account fraud (where fraudsters use the credit card numbers of their victims). While the media and lawmakers have focused much attention on identity theft in the past several years, academic research on the crime is limited. A lack of empirical data on identity theft makes it difficult to know the full extent of the problem and to determine profiles of victims and offenders. Based on the information that we do have, identity theft is a costly crime that affects millions of people worldwide. It appears that both victims and offenders come from all demographic groups. Additionally, the lack of a clear definition hinders attempts at controlling it. This bibliography reviews some of the definitional issues, Data Sources, research, theories, and prevention efforts centered on identity theft.

General Overviews

Research on identity theft is relatively new; despite this, several scholars have put together general reviews about what is known about theft crime. Many of the overviews of the crime come from government reports. Finklea 2010 is a comprehensive overview of identity theft for members of Congress. This review discusses definitions, trends, and legislative history of laws making it a crime. It is a good starting point for understanding identity theft, especially for those interested in legal attempts to control it. Newman and McNally 2005 reviews available literature on identity theft for the National Institute of Justice. It is the most comprehensive review of the crime to date. Others have reviewed literature on the crime for academic journals. Hoar 2001 is one of the earliest reviews of the crime. The author’s discussion emphasizes ways identity theft can be investigated and prosecuted. White and Fisher 2008 reviews the many challenges that hinder our ability to understand and control identity theft. Challenges its authors discuss include definitional problems, difficulty in discovering the crime, and inconsistencies in law enforcement responses to the crime. Stickley 2008 discusses many of the myths of identity theft. While journalistic, this book provides a good overview of the crime. Finally, Newman and McNally 2009 is a collection of articles written by top scholars in the field. These authors address such topics as definitional issues, victimization patterns, and potential Situational Crime Prevention programs to deter offenders. While not a general overview of the literature, it does provide a variety of articles that address many topics relating to identity theft.

  • Finklea, Kristin M. 2010. Identity theft: Trends and issues. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.

    This congressional report provides a comprehensive overview of the definitions of identity theft, legislative history in the United States, trends in identity theft (e.g., perpetrators, investigations, and impact), and data breaches. Ideal for those interested primarily in legislative responses to identity theft in the United States.

  • Hoar, Sean B. 2001. Identity theft: The crime of the new millennium. Oregon Law Review 80:1423–1442.

    One of the earliest attempts at articulating the nature of identity theft. Discusses definitions of identity theft, how it occurs, ways it can be investigated and prosecuted, and how it can be prevented.

  • Newman, Graeme R., and Megan M. McNally. 2005. Identity theft literature review. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice.

    Provides the most detailed literature review of identity theft. Useful as an initial source when beginning a project. It includes discussions of the extent, patterning, and costs of identity theft and law enforcement responses to it.

  • Newman, Graeme R., and Megan M. McNally. 2009. Perspectives on identity theft. Crime Prevention Studies 23. New York: Criminal Justice Press.

    A collection of articles about identity theft. The articles bring together top scholars on the topic. Includes discussions that explore definitional issues, victim profiles, and potential policy and Crime Prevention measures.

  • Stickley, Jim. 2008. The truth about identity theft. Upper Saddle River, NJ: FT Press.

    A journalistic account of identity theft that provides a great deal of information about how various types of identity thieves get identifying information, how effective security is, how identity theft impacts victims, and how it can be prevented.

  • White, Michael, and Christopher Fisher. 2008. Assessing our knowledge of identity theft: The challenges to effective prevention and control efforts. Criminal Justice Policy Review 19:3–24.

    DOI: 10.1177/0887403407306297

    Discusses many of the challenges that hinder our understanding and control of identity theft. The authors discuss such issues as problems defining the crime, discovering victimization and reporting it, inconsistent responses from law enforcement, and the limitations of existing data.

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