Back in the days when a handshake was a promise, a person’s face was often their only identifier. There were no documents to verify one’s name, age or address. Stealing someone’s identity, therefore, was a matter of appearing physically as that person.
Dead Men Tell No Tales
Obviously, this was more easily accomplished if the victim of the identity theft was dead. Identity thieves would take on the name and life of the deceased, living in his or her place. Why would someone attempt such a scheme? Usually, money was the goal. Victims of identity theft tended to be the more fortunate, or wealthy. Inspired by greed, identity thieves were common thieves who sometimes resorted to murder to get what they wanted-namely, someone else’s fortune.
Quite different from the faceless identity thieves of today, these criminals had to be highly duplicitous. Stepping into someone else’s shoes required relinquishing one’s own identity and striving to become, at least for a period of time, someone else. In effect, identity thieves were conmon whose success depended on their skills at deception.
Modern Day Identity Theft
Today, though identity thieves are after the same end-money-the act of stealing someone’s identity usually doesn’t involve murder. The thief maintains his or her own identity while assuming the victim’s identity only on paper. They use the information they have gathered about their victim to access the victim’s money, or to make purchases in his or her name. Undoubtedly, this is much easier than trying to live someone else’s life.
There are several ways that today’s identity thieves find their victims. As most of us are now aware, computer files can be “broken into,” and personal information such as social security numbers, credit card numbers and bank account information can be accessed by the technologically-savvy thief.
Diving into Darkened Dumpsters
Another tactic that has evolved is raiding trash, also called “dumpster diving.” Determined thieves sift through people’s garbage for financial statements and all kinds of other personal information.
Cell Phone Identity Theft
Yet another strategy is reminiscent of the old-time conman; the thief contacts the victim, often by phone or these days, cellphone, posing as a representative from a credible institution. The caller tries to convince the intended victim that there is a crisis or other urgent need for them to reveal their personal information. This scam is often used on the elderly and others who might be perceived as vulnerable to forceful persuasion.
In short, while the idea of impersonating someone else to gain access to their money isn’t new, the tactics used to accomplish this scheme have evolved to keep pace with the changes in the ways we do business. While we may be thankful that impersonation today doesn’t depend on such drastic measures as in past centuries, identity theft continues to be a violation of our most personal possession, our identity.