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What is criminal identity theft?

You might associate identity theft with financial crime, but did you know that a thief can also use your name, driver’s license or Social Security Number when they are stopped for committing a crime? This scenario is called criminal identity theft. If you become a victim, it can cause problems in your employment, and when you apply for a loan or marriage license. Typically, criminal identity theft cases involve traffic violations or misdemeanors. If an imposter uses your identity in a case that involves a violent assault or drug arrest, it can impact your children’s living situation.

How it works, in general

When a thief impersonates you and fails to pay a speeding ticket or doesn’t show up for a court date, law enforcement issues a bench warrant for your arrest. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, in some cases, the imposter appears in court for a traffic or misdemeanor violation, pleads guilty and establishes a criminal record for you. The imposter could also be arrested or booked at the county jail for a felony or another serious public offense like a DUI. The arrest or court information is recorded in the countywide database and is usually transferred to the state’s criminal records database. From there, it may be forwarded to the national crime index database, at the FBI’s National Crime Information Center. Added to the charge of failing to appear in court, which could have an impact on your finances, if the thief used your credit score to post bond, you are now in a lot of trouble, the ITRC  says.

A main issue with criminal identity theft is that you do not know that it happened and you can be impersonated for years without knowing it.

Clearing your name

The establish procedures vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction so it’s important to understand that you must contact and follow the process for the court where the record originatedThe ITRC provides general steps you can take to establish innocence with law enforcement, the court, DMV and employers. If you are facing serious charges and resolving the issue seems complicated and difficult, it is wise to hire legal counsel.

Protecting yourself

The best way to protect yourself from criminal identity theft is to take all of the same precautions that you would take to prevent financial identity theft from happening to you. Unfortunately, unlike other forms of identity theft, the warning signs appear out of nowhere, such as when you go to renew your driver’s license and are told that you cannot due to outstanding moving violations in another state. As disconcerting as this is, there are resources available to you, and seeking professional advice is not something to feel ashamed or embarrassed about.

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