Id Theft: Criminal Identity Theft

What is criminal identity theft?

Criminal identity theft typically occurs when an identity thief gives another person’s name or personal information to a law enforcement officer during an arrest or police investigation.  They may give the police a stolen driver’s license or other identification card in the victim’s name or simply use the name or personal information of a friend or relative without showing any type of identification.

Often this occurs when the identity thief is stopped by police and is given a traffic ticket or a citation for a misdemeanor offense.  The thief, using the victim’s name or personal information, may sign the citation and promise to appear in court.  If no one shows up on the scheduled court date, the judge may issue a bench warrant of arrest, and the bench warrant (and criminal record) will be issued under the victim’s name.

Often the victim is completely unaware there is a criminal record or arrest warrant in his or her name.  The victim may never know there’s a problem until a negative action occurs.  The victim may be stopped during a routine traffic stop and then arrested because of the outstanding bench warrant, or may be denied a job or fired from his current job after a criminal background check uncovers the criminal record.

This form of identity theft is difficult to prevent and difficult to fix.  The victim has the primary responsibility of clearing his or her name within the criminal justice system, but the victim must rely on law enforcement officials and court personnel to correct the erroneous data in each local, state and federal criminal justice file and database.  Also, common identity theft prevention tools, such as credit monitoring, fraud alerts, and credit freezes will generally not detect this type of identity theft or stop it from happening.

Warning Signs

You may be the victim of criminal identity theft if:

  • You are denied employment or a promotion or are fired after a criminal background check when you know you don’t have a criminal record. 
  • You are detained by law enforcement for an unknown reason.
  • You receive a citation or ticket for vehicles or property that you don’t own or from unfamiliar places, such as a city you’ve never visited.

Unfortunately, often by the time a victim realizes that an identity thief has created a criminal record in their name or with his information, the victim may already be in police custody.

What to do if it happens to you

General tips:   

  • Before getting your credit report or a criminal background report for any employment purpose, the employer must notify you beforehand and get your authorization.  If you are denied a job or promotion or you are fired from your job due to the results of a criminal background check, the employer is required to notify you before making an unfavorable employment decision.  It must provide you with the information upon which the decision was based.  If it fails to provide this information, speak with the human resources department or hiring authority and request the information.
  • If you need to clear your name, keep a detailed log of all conversations you have with law enforcement and court officials, including dates, names, phone numbers, and email addresses.
  • Note the time and money you spend in the process of clearing your name, in case you choose to sue for damages in the future.
  • Confirm conversations in writing, and send mail through certified mail return receipt requested so that you have proof of the communications.  Make sure to keep copies of all letters and documents exchanged.  Keep them filed in a safe and secure place.
  • Though not advised, if you choose to communicate with officials by email, request that the person receiving the information confirm receipt of your message and any corresponding attachments.

Find out in which criminal records databases your information appears.

  • When the imposter is booked or if an arrest warrant is issued, a criminal history record will be created under your information.  Your name or other identifying information will likely be entered in multiple computer databases, including the criminal justice database of the county where the violation or arrest occurred and the state’s criminal records database.  Depending on the crime the imposter committed, your information may also be entered in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database.  Steps should be taken to correct the information in each file and database. 

Contact the arresting law enforcement agency that originally arrested the person using your identity.

  • Let them know that someone used, or is using, your name or personal information fraudulently, and file an Identity Theft Report for false impersonation.  You may wish to provide the law enforcement agency with a copy of the FTC’s Memo to Law Enforcement which discusses how important it is for identity theft victims to be able to file a police report. 
  • Get as much information as possible about the criminal event you are disputing – the crime the imposter committed.  Details such as what occurred and when and where the crime occurred can help to prove your innocence. 
  • Ask the agency what forms of identification the imposter presented at the time he or she was booked or arrested and what data was collected from the imposter, such as fingerprints and mugshots.
  • Give the agency copies of your fingerprints, photograph, and identifying documents, such as your driver’s license, passport or U.S. legal presence documents.
  • Ask the law enforcement agency to compare your information to the imposter’s to establish your true identity and your innocence.

Once you establish your identity, take steps to correct your information in criminal justice and court records.

  • Request a clearance:  Request that the law enforcement agency recall any warrants issued in your name and that they issue a "clearance letter" or a “certificate of release” to establish your innocence.  Keep a copy in your possession at all times and, if possible, keep a copy with a trusted relative or friend in the event you ever need to prove that you’ve been cleared of charges. 
  • Correct court records:  If an arrest warrant or criminal conviction was issued, ask the law enforcement agency to file information with the district attorney's office and/or the appropriate court handling the case about their follow-up investigation which verified the false impersonation and your innocence.  The district attorney’s office may need to amend any paperwork that it has filed with the court to correct the erroneous identification.
  • Correct criminal justice databases:  Ask the law enforcement agency to forward a “clearance update” to each criminal justice database that should be modified, including all city, county, state and federal databases.  Request that they change allrecords from your name/personal information to the imposter's true identity, if known, or to John Doe, if the imposter’s identity is unknown.  You should be aware that once a victim’s name is recorded on a criminal record it may not ever be fully removed from the official file, because the victim’s name has become part of the imposter’s criminal record.  However, you can request a “key name” switch within the various criminal justice databases.  This means that the record will reflect the imposter’s true name (or John Doe if his identity is unknown) as the primary name on the record and your name will appear as an alias.

You may need to seek legal advice. 

  • It may be necessary to contact the court agency that issued the bench warrant or conviction and request a hearing to establish that you are factually innocent of charges based upon the follow-up impersonation investigation by the law enforcement agency, or declarations, affidavits, or other material and relevant information.  You should consult with an attorney to determine the best course of action based on your particular situation.

Prevention Tips

Below are some tips to help you safeguard yourself from criminal identity theft.

  • Consider obtaining a copy of your driving history report and/or your criminal history record.  Visit the Georgia Department of Driver Services website for information on how to get a copy of your driving history report, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation website for information regarding your criminal history record.
  • If you lose your driver’s license, social security card, passport or other form of personal identification, make sure to report it as soon as you become aware that it is missing.
  • Monitor your car insurance for sudden or unexpected premium increases.  This may be a sign that your driver’s license information has been fraudulently used and that traffic-related citations have been issued under your information.