Isn't Identity Theft Just Fraud?

I realize technological advances makes this crime more complex but isn’t identity theft just fraud? Am I off base in thinking that the idea that this is a new crime is in order to shift blame from the companies who were defrauded (say your bank) over to the consumer? Your bank is supposed to take care of your money. If it doesn’t then why should you pay? They have failed in their duty. Am I missing something?

Generally, you are not liable for fraudulent charges to your credit cards or bank account. Your bank will cover it.

“Identity theft” is not a statutorily defined crime as far as the federal government is concerned, but in 1998 Congress did amend 18USC to expand the definition fraud to include the possession of “means of identification” to effect various nefarious activities. But federal jurisdiction in this area is largely limited to activities affecting interstate commerce, or means of identification issued by the federal government (passports, social security cards, military IDs, etc.)

So to answer your questions: yes, identity theft is simple fraud. No, you are not liable for your bank screwing up. Yes, getting your money back may be a pain, because banks in general are a pain.

Laws vary with jurisdiction. Some legislatures may have created a special category of crime known as “identity theft”, in which case no, it’s not just fraud. In others, the term “identity theft” is just an umbrella term which refers to misdeeds which can be prosecuted under existing fraud and other statutes.

If you leave the keys in the ignition of your vehicle and someone steals it, should GM or Ford be held accountable for your stupidity? I deal with privacy and security all the time in my job, part of the other duties as assigned role. I have a load of federal laws, regulations, policies, etc., I am required to uphold to protect people’s identities. Yeah, if I mess up, hold me accountable. At the same time, if you don’t do enough to protect your own identity, it’s not my fault you failed to protect yourself and/or follow my strict requirements when sending sensitive information to me.

No. but if Ford or GM went around handing out copies of my keys to their “trusted marketing partners” then I might blame 'em.

The crime is very old, just had different names depending on the method.
60 years ago a fellow ran for sheriff in Detroit’s county using the name of the dead former sheriff. Got a whole lot of votes on name recognition alone, despite it not being his real name. It’s hard to prove intent to defraud when he didn’t try to claim being the same person, just letting people assume.

Sounds like an Eddie Murphy movie.

There have been cases going back centuries; one of the ruffians in Hucklebery Finn claimed to be the Dauphin, escaped from France after the Revolution IIRC. There was a fake pretending to be one of the Dead princes of Richard III fame too.

People pretending to be a rich person, checking into hotels, availing themselves of free services (or charging them) from syncophantic local merchants, was a plot device in quite a few old novels. It’s nothing new.

the big deal is that nowadays everything is connected; you can assume an identitity, bootstrap one piece to create others, until you have bank acounts, credit cards, identity documents, etc. - and it can backfire onto the credit record of the victim, and be a major mess to correct. This takes it a step beyond simple fraud in the 1950’s, say.

It’s one thing to print or steal a set of cheques and go around town, maybe making local merchants hesitant to extend someone credit. it’s another thing to destroy a person’s financial life and make the restoration process a long-term effort.

Yes, sometimes the “victim” did something stupid, sometimes it’s because of the stupidity of the system where too much trust exists and a person can do massive amounts of damage with readily-available information (and maybe a bit of social engineering). It’s as if the perp can not only take your car, but the bank drive thru gives them all your money based on the license plate, the IRS charges you based on tax submissions from your car, and the DMV comes to you for license plate renewals on your missing car.

A better analogy would be if GM or Ford gave me an unsolicited car, parked it in my driveway with the keys in the ignition, and someone stole it and used it in the commission of a crime before I knew anything about it. Then somehow I find myself on the hook for all the damages and criminal activity that occurred with the use of “my” car.

There are certainly isolated cases that can be blamed on the victim’s stupidity, but for the most part “Identity Fraud” is just what the OP pegged it as – a marketing campaign to shift the public’s perception and swindle us into believing we’re somehow responsible for lax security on the part of those we do business with. I’m just unclear right now whether it’s orchestrated by the financial industry or the companies that sell the shredders I’ve been buying every year to deal with the deluge of credit card junk mail.

Wait. So am I being paranoid or not?

Of course not. Big companies, or associations of smaller ones, are always proposing and lobbying for laws which shift legal and financial responsibility away from them. It makes perfect sense for them to support laws which put some additional burdens on the victims for the resolution of “identity theft” fraud, as this means they don’t need to spend as much of their own money on it. Whether or not banks and financial institutions are actually doing this is irrelevant; the point is that they have a strong incentive to do so, and so your vigilance and fears are not unjustified.

The point is that it is fraud - but the damage done goes far beyond simply one person ripping off a business using a false name. The impact can be much deeper. Almost like someone took that unsolicited car and ran down a bunch of schoolchildren and now the community blames you.

So even if in the end the banks or credit card companies or Amazon or whoever can’t come after you for the money - so what? For years after, you will be busy trying to explain to everyone where you need credit etc. that no, that was not me, no matter what your credit enquiries tell you.

One of my favorite Mitchell & Webb bits.

Identity theft is not just about money. You could be denied a job, denied insurance, even arrested because someone stole your identity.

The FTC has quite a bit of info —> Identity Theft | Consumer Advice