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Identity Theft

IDENTITY THEFT

identity theft is the assumption of a person's identity in order, for instance, to obtain credit; to obtain credit cards from banks and retailers; to steal money from existing accounts; to rent apartments or storage units; to apply for loans; or to establish accounts using another's name. An identity thief can steal thousands of dollars in a victim's name without the victim even knowing about it for months or years. Identity thieves are able to accomplish their crimes by doing things such as opening a new credit card account with a false address, or using the victims's name, date of birth, and social security number. When the thief uses the credit card and does not pay the resulting bills, the delinquent account is reported on the victim's credit report.

As increasing numbers of businesses and consumers rely on the internet and other forms of electronic communication to conduct transactions, so too is illegal activity using the very same media on the rise. Fraudulent schemes conducted via the Internet are generally difficult to trace and to prosecute, and they cost individuals and businesses millions of dollars each year.

According to a justice department web site devoted to the topic, internet fraud refers to any type of scheme in which one or more Internet elements are employed in order to put forth "fraudulent solicitations to prospective victims, to conduct fraudulent transactions, or to transmit the proceeds of fraud to financial institutions or to others connected with the scheme." As pointed out in a report prepared by the National White Collar Crime Center and the federal bureau of investigation (FBI), "The Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IFCC) 2001 Internet Fraud Report: January 1, 2001– December 31, 2001," major categories of Inter-net fraud include, but are not limited to, auction or retail fraud, securities fraud, and identity theft.

Securities fraud, also called investment fraud, involves the offer of bogus stocks or high-return investment opportunities, market manipulation schemes, pyramid and Ponzi schemes, or other "get rich quick" offerings.

In its May 2002 issue, Internet Scambusters cited a study by Gartner G2 showing that online merchants lost $700 million to Internet fraud in 2001. By comparison, the report showed that "online fraud losses were 19 times as high as offline fraud." In fact, the study pointed out that in the same year more than 5 percent of those who made purchases via the Internet became victims of credit card fraud.

The IFCC, in its 2001 Internet fraud report, released statistics of complaints that had been received and then referred to law enforcement or regulatory agencies for action. For the 12-month period covered by the report, the IFCC received over 17 million inquiries to its web site, with nearly 50,000 formal complaints lodged. It must be noted, however, that the number of complaints included reports of computer intrusions and unsolicited child pornography.

Significant findings in the report revealed that Internet auction fraud was the most reported offense, comprising 42.8 percent of referred complaints. Besides those mentioned above, top fraud complaints also involved non-delivery of merchandise or payment, credit/debit card fraud, and confidence fraud. While it may seem easy to dismiss these concerns as obvious, the schemes to defraud customers of money or valuable information have become increasingly sophisticated and less discernible to the unsuspecting consumer.

The "IFCC 2001 Internet Report" revealed that 81 percent of those committing acts of fraud were believed to be male, and that nearly 76 percent of those allegedly involved in acts of fraud were individuals. According to the report, California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Illinois were the states in which half of the perpetrators resided. The report also provided a shocking example of just how difficult a task tracking down those involved in Internet fraud can be. According to the report, out of the more than 1,800 investigations initiated from complaints during 2001, only three arrests were made.

One example of the growing sophistication of Internet fraud cases can be seen in a 1997 case brought by the federal trade commission (FTC). FTC v. Audiotex Connection, Inc., CV-97 0726 (E.D.N.Y.), specifically concerned a scam in which Internet consumers were invited to view or to access free computer images. As reported in a February 10, 1998, FTC statement made before a Senate Subcommittee on Investigations of the Governmental Affairs Committee, when viewers attempted to access the images, their computer modems were surreptitiously disconnected from their local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and were reconnected to the Internet through defendants' expensive international modem connections. Exorbitantly priced long-distance telephone charges continued to accrue until the consumer turned off the computer, even if he or she had exited the defendants' web site and moved elsewhere on the Internet. Approximately 38,000 consumers fell for this scam, losing a collective $2.74 million

A U.S. Department of Justice web site that addresses the major types of Internet fraud reported the following examples of illegal activity carried out using the medium.

Two separate Los Angeles cases demonstrate the intricacies of securities fraud and market manipulation. In the first case, defendants bought 130,000 shares of bogus stock in NEI Webworld, Inc., a bankrupt company whose assets had been liquidated. Defendants in the case then posted e-mail messages on various Internet bulletin boards, claiming that NEI was being acquired by a wireless telecommunications company. Within 45 minutes of the posting, shares increased from $8 to $15 each, during which time defendants "cashed out." The remaining stock was worth 25 cents per share within a 30-minute period. The second example involves a case in which an employee of Pair-Gain Technologies set up a fraudulent Bloomberg News web site and reported false information regarding the company's purchase by a foreign company. The employee then posted bogus E-mail messages on financial news bulletin boards that caused a 30 percent manipulation of PairGain stock prices within hours.

In another example of investment fraud, perpetrators used the Internet, along with telemarketing techniques, to mislead more than 3,000 victims into investing almost $50 million in fraudulent "'general partnerships' involving purported 'high-tech' investments, such as an Internet shopping mall and Internet access providers."

More than 100 U.S. military officers were involved in a case of identity theft. Defendants in the case illegally acquired the names and social security numbers of the military personnel from a web site, then used the Internet to apply for credit cards issued by a Delaware bank. In another case of identity theft and fraud, a defendant stole personal information from the web site of a federal agency, and then used the information to make applications for an online auto loan through a Florida bank.

Finally, the Department of Justice web site gives an example of a widely reported version of credit card fraud. In the elaborate scheme, a perpetrator offers Internet consumers expensive electronics items, such as video cameras, at extremely low prices. As an incentive, they tell consumers that the item will ship before payment is finalized. When terms are agreed to, the perpetrator uses the consumer's name and address, but another party's illegally obtained credit card number, to purchase the item through a legitimate online vendor. Once the consumer has received the item, he or she authorizes credit card payment to the perpetrator. In the meantime, when the credit card holder, whose card number was used to purchase the item, stops payment on the unauthorized order, the vendor attempts to reclaim the merchandise from the consumer. The defrauded consumer, the victim of the credit card theft, and the merchant usually have no simple means of redress, because by the time they catch on, the perpetrator has usually transferred funds into untraceable accounts.

In October 1998, Congress passed the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998 (Identity Theft Act) 18 U.S.C. § 1028 to address the problem of identity theft. Specifically, the Act amended 18 U.S.C. § 1028 to make it a federal crime when anyone: knowingly transfers or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable State or local law. Violations of the act are investigated by federal investigative agencies such as the u.s. secret service, the FBI, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and are prosecuted by the Department of Justice.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the federal clearinghouse for complaints by victims of identity theft. Although the FTC does not have the authority to bring criminal cases, it assists victims of identity theft by providing them with information to help them to resolve the financial and other problems that can result from identity theft. The FTC also may refer victim complaints to other appropriate government agencies and private organizations for further action.

Consumers can protect themselves from this type of crime by protecting information such as credit card and social security numbers and by shredding mailed offers to obtain credit. They also can check their credit reports for unknown accounts. In the event of identify theft, an alert

can be placed on a credit bureau that notifies consumers of potential fraudulent activity. Consumers who are victims can also write a statement that will appear on their credit reports explaining the criminal activity. Most banks and major credit card companies have fraud departments with staff who are trained to address these situations, but often the consumer feels that the onus is on him or her to prove lack of wrongdoing, and many victims report frustration at having their credit and lives destroyed by identity theft. A number of states have taken action to make identity theft a state crime.

further readings

Collins, Judith M., and and Sandra K. Hoffman. 2003. Identity Theft Victims' Assistance Guide. Flushing, N.Y.: Looseleaf Law Publications.

Newman, John Q. 1999. Identity Theft: the Cybercrime of the New Millenium. Port Townsend, Wash.: Loompanics Unlimited.

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"Identity Theft." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. 28 Jul. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Identity Theft." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. (July 28, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3437702191.html

"Identity Theft." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. 2005. Retrieved July 28, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3437702191.html

Identity Theft

Identity Theft

KELLI A. MILLER

Identity theft is among the fastest growing crimes in America. A thief typically steals someone's identity, opens checking and credit card accounts in that person's name, then goes on a spending spree. The rate of identity theft or identity fraud had so escalated in the late 1990s that the Social Security Administration declared it a national crisis.

Identity theft is the most popularand most profitableform of consumer fraud. It encompasses all types of crime in which someone illegally obtains and fraudulently uses another person's confidential information, most often for financial gain. A person's Social Security number is valuable to an identity thief. Armed with the Social Security number, a criminal can open a bank account or credit card account, apply for a loan, and remove funds from varying financial accounts. In some cases, criminals have assumed the victim's identity altogether, amassing debt and committing crimes that become a part of the victim's criminal record.

The identity trail. Advanced computer and telecommunication technologies have armed thieves with new ways to obtain large amounts of personal data from afar. Hackers can spy on e-mail and Internet users, silently stealing passwords or banking information. Old-fashioned concepts such as "dumpster diving" still prevail. Thieves sort through garbage for telltale signs of identity such as

cleared checks, bank statements, even junk mail, such as "preapproved" credit cards.

Other criminal tactics include "shoulder surfing" and "skimming." A "shoulder surfing" criminal spies on someone as they type in a Pin number or password at an automatic teller machine (ATM). "Skimming," one of the newest schemes, occurs when a cashier receives a credit card for a purchase, then unknown to the victim, swipes it through a portable device that records the card information.

Consumer advocates estimate that 750,000 people will become victims of identity fraud every year. The statistic is a startling difference from numbers logged just a decade ago. In 1992, the credit reporting agency TransUnion logged about 35,000 identity theft complaints. A decade later, the company received more than a million calls.

Measures can be taken to minimize the risk of identity theft. Security experts recommend carrying a limited number of ID cards and credit cards, signing all new credit cards immediately with permanent ink, steering clear from unsecured Internet sites, and never writing a PIN, password, or Social Security number on credit cards or in briefcases or wallets. Cashiers should be observed as they process an order and personal or account information should not be revealed to anyone without first verifying their identity. Other tips include creating passwords that are not obvious (i.e., do not use birth dates) and checking credit reports periodically for accuracy.

Identity theft affidavit. In many cases, the victim may not realize their identity has been stolen until a negative situation arises. When the crime is finally discovered, the victim must provide proof that they did not create the debt themselves. This involves a laborious process of contacting each and every company where accounts were fraudulently opened. Persons whose identities have been stolen can spend months, even years, remedying the problem. To reduce the burden, the government established the ID Theft Affidavit, a single form that alerts all participating companies about the crime. A number of financial organizations, including the top three credit reporting agencies, endorse the ID Theft Affidavit.

According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), the average victim spends anywhere from $1,000 to over $10,000 per incident of identity theft or fraud to reclaim and reestablish identity and credit. Victims of identity fraud should notify all three national credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion) immediately and request that their files be flagged with a fraud alert. The crime should also be reported to the police and the FTC, and in some cases, the Social Security Administration, Department of Motor Vehicles, and the U.S. Post Office.

Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act. The threat to privacy has prompted a number of new laws governing fraud. In 1998, Congress passed the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act. The legislation created a new offense of identity theft, making it a separate crime against the person whose identity was stolen. Prior to this legislation, identity theft was considered a crime only against the company the victim defrauded. Under the Federal identity theft act, it is a crime for any person to "knowingly transfer[ring] or use[ing], without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of Federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable State or local law." Violators face a maximum term of 15 years in prison, a fine, and criminal forfeiture of any personal property used or intended to be used to commit the offense.

ID thieves are often charged with other violations, including credit card fraud, computer fraud, and mail fraud. These felonies can carry substantial penalties and up to 30 years' imprisonment. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the United States Secret Service, and the United States Postal Inspection Service help prosecute identity theft cases. Many states have also enacted legislation regarding identity theft. Arizona led the way with a specific identity theft statute passed in 1996. As the crime's serious threat became evident, more states followed suit. In 1999, 22 states passed identity theft legislation. According to a GAO 2002 report, identity theft can be a felony offense in 45 of the 49 states that have laws to address the problem. Two years after the passage of the federal identity theft act, the Justice Department testified that it had used the statute in 92 cases, according to a GAO report.

The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act required the FTC to "log and acknowledge the receipt of complaints by individuals who certify that they have a reasonable belief" that someone stole their identity. The act enabled the creation of the Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse, a federal database for tracking complaints. Consumers call a toll-free hotline (1877-ID-THEFT) to enter their complaint, and have the option to do so anonymously. When established in 1999, the FTC logged about 260 calls per week. In December 2001, the hotline was receiving more than 3,000 contacts a week.

Identity fraud complaints and related information are shared electronically between the FTC and other law enforcement agencies nationwide via the Consumer Sentinel Network, a secure, encrypted website. The network was initially set up in 1997 as a way of tracking telemarketing scams. As of May 2002, 46 federal law enforcement agencies and over 18,000 state and local departments had enrolled in the FTC's Consumer Sentinel Network collaboration. Accessing the Network allows police to analyze identity theft cases and determine if there is a larger pattern of crime. At this time, comprehensive results involving the number of cases prosecuted under the federal identity theft act and state statutes are not available.

FURTHER READING:

ELECTRONIC:

Federal Trade Commission. "ID Theft: When Bad Things Happen to Good People." September 2002. <http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/idtheft.htm#occurs> (December 11, 2002).

Federal Trade Commission. "Identity Theft." August 7, 2002. <http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft/>(December 01,2002).

Georgia Stop Identity Theft. "What is Identity Theft?" 2002. <http://www.stopidentitytheft.org/prevention.html#what>(December 01, 2002).

ID Theft Resource Center. "ID Theft." October 28, 2002. <http://www.idtheftcenter.org/.> (December 01, 2002).

SEE ALSO

Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986
FBI (United States Federal Bureau of Investigation)
Justice Department, United States
Postal Security
Postal Service (USPS), United States
Secret Service, United States

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MILLER, KELLI A.. "Identity Theft." Encyclopedia of Espionage, Intelligence, and Security. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. 28 Jul. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

MILLER, KELLI A.. "Identity Theft." Encyclopedia of Espionage, Intelligence, and Security. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. (July 28, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3403300364.html

MILLER, KELLI A.. "Identity Theft." Encyclopedia of Espionage, Intelligence, and Security. 2004. Retrieved July 28, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3403300364.html

Identity Theft

Identity Theft

A forensic investigation can involve tracing the whereabouts of a person or their finances (a facet of forensic accounting ). Someone who is eluding capture can adopt a new identity or assume the identity of someone else. The mechanisms of identity theft must be familiar to a forensic scientist.

Identity theft is the most popularand most profitableform of consumer fraud, and is among the fastest growing crimes in America. It encompasses all types of crime in which someone illegally obtains and fraudulently uses another person's confidential information, most often for financial gain. A person's Social Security number is valuable to an identity thief. Armed with the Social Security number, a criminal can open a bank account or credit card account, apply for a loan, and remove funds from varying financial accounts. In some cases, criminals have assumed the victim's identity altogether, incurring debt in the victim's name and committing crimes that become a part of the victim's criminal record.

The rate of identity theft or identity fraud so escalated in the late 1990s that the Social Security Administration declared it a national crisis.

Advanced computer and telecommunication technologies have armed thieves with new ways to obtain large amounts of personal data from afar. Hackers can spy on e-mail and Internet users, silently stealing passwords or banking information.

Old-fashioned methods also remain effective. "Dumpster diving" thieves sort through garbage for telltale signs of identity such as cleared checks, bank statements, even junk mail, such as "preapproved" credit cards. A "shoulder surfing" criminal spies on someone as they type in a pin number or password at an automatic teller machine (ATM). "Skimming" occurs when a cashier receives a credit card for a purchase, then surreptitiously swipes the card through a portable device that records the card information.

The threat to privacy has prompted a number of new laws governing fraud. In 1998, Congress passed the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act. The legislation created a new offense of identity theft, making it a separate crime against the person whose identity was stolen. Prior to this legislation, identity theft was considered a crime only against the company the victim defrauded. Under the federal identity theft act, any person "knowingly transferring or using, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of Federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable State or local law" will be charged with a crime. Violators face a maximum term of 15 years in prison, a fine, and criminal forfeiture of any personal property used or intended to be used to commit the offense.

Identity thieves are often charged with other violations, including credit card fraud, computer fraud, and mail fraud. These felonies can carry substantial penalties and up to 30 years imprisonment. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI ), the United States Secret Service, and the United States Postal Inspection Service help prosecute identity theft cases. Many states have also enacted legislation regarding identity theft. Arizona led the way with a specific identity theft statute passed in 1996. As the crime's serious threat became evident, more states followed suit. In 1999, 22 states passed identity theft legislation. According to a U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) report published in 2002, identity theft can be a felony offense in 45 of the 49 states that have laws to address the problem. Two years after the passage of the federal identity theft act, the justice department testified that it had used the statute in 92 cases, according to a GAO report.

The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act requires the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to "log and acknowledge the receipt of complaints by individuals who certify that they have a reasonable belief" that someone stole their identity. The act enabled the creation of the Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse, a federal database for tracking complaints. Consumers call a toll-free hotline (1-877-ID-THEFT) to enter their complaint, and have the option to do so anonymously. When established in 1999, the FTC logged about 260 calls per week. By 2002, the hotline was receiving more than 3,000 contacts a week.

Identity fraud complaints and related information are shared electronically between the FTC and other law enforcement agencies nationwide via the Consumer Sentinel Network, a secure, encrypted Web site. The network was initially set up in 1997 as a way of tracking telemarketing scams. As of March 2005, more than 1,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States, Canada, and Australia had enrolled in the FTC's Consumer Sentinel Network collaboration. Accessing the Network allows police to analyze identity theft cases and determine if there is a larger pattern of crime. At this time, comprehensive results involving the number of cases prosecuted under the federal identity theft act and state statutes are not available.

see also Codes and ciphers; Computer forensics; Computer hackers; Document forgery; Technology and forensic science.

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Identity Theft

IDENTITY THEFT

Identity theft refers to stealing and illegally using another person's identity information, including name, date of birth, Social Security number (SSN), address, telephone number, and bank and credit card numbers. Identity theft has become the fastest-growing financial crime in the United States and around the world. As Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean B. Hoar reported, in the United States, 94 percent of financial-crime arrests in 1996 and 1997 involved identity theft, and actual losses to individuals and financial institutions totaled $450 million in 1996 and $745 million in 1997. Over the same period, Master-Card stated that losses because of identity theft represented about 96 percent of its member banks' overall fraud losses ($407 million in 1997).

METHODS OF IDENTITY THEFT

There are many methods of identity theft, but the two most common ones are the physical theft of identification documents and information and computer-based, cyber-space theft. In addition, there are organized crime schemes aimed at stealing personal information.

Physical thefts might include pickpockets stealing purses or wallets for credit cards, driver's licenses, passports, and checkbooks. At automated teller machine (ATM) stations, thieves can peek over people's shoulders when they use credit or debit cards in an attempt to learn the personal identification number associated with the card. Thieves steal mail, garbage, and recycling looking for bank statements, credit card receipts, and other sources of personal information. Even family members have been known to assume the identity of another family member in order to commit financial fraud.


Contact information for three credit bureaus
Credit bureau Website Credit report Fraud unit
Experian www.experian.com 888-397-3742 888-397-3742
Equifax www.equifax.com 800-685-1111 888-766-0008
TransUnion www.transunion.com 800-888-4213 800-680-7289

On the Internet, thieves use high-tech skills to obtain people's usernames, passwords, credit card numbers, and other valuable information. At businesses and hospitals, employees may access their company networks to steal database files of customer and personnel records for criminal use. Organized crime schemes involve hiring hackers or bribing employees to steal valuable information from corporate databases.

PREVENTING IDENTITY THEFT

To avoid being the victim of identity theft, the following proactive measures should be taken:

  • Do not give out personal information except when absolutely necessary
  • Avoid having a SSN printed on a driver's license, a personal check, or membership cards
  • Refuse to give a SSN over the phone, in an e-mail, or as identification for store purchase and refund
  • Exercise caution when using credit or debit cards at ATM stations, stores, restaurants, and online stores; do not let others get access to such information
  • Carefully review monthly statements from credit card companies and banks for accuracy; report any problem to them immediately
  • Keep personal, financial, and medical records in secure places; shred old documents and mail such as preapproved credit card solicitations, credit card receipts, and bank statements before throwing them away
  • Do not place outgoing mail in unlocked mailboxes because a red flag up on the mailbox could attract thieves; promptly remove delivered mail from unlocked mailboxes

STEPS FOR VICTIMS TO TAKE

Victims of identity theft should take the following countermeasures:

  1. Immediately report the identity theft to the local police, and keep a copy of the police report as evidence
  2. Immediately call each of the three credit bureaus (see Table 1) and request credit reviews and a 90-Day Initial Security Alert or a 7-Year Fraud Victim Alert to prevent further damages
  3. Work cooperatively with any creditors of accounts where fraud occurred

see also Crime and Fraud; Cyber Crime

bibliography

Experian. http://www.experian.com

Hoar, Sean B. (2001, March). Identity theft: The crime of the new millennium. United States Attorneys' USA Bulletin, 49 (2). Retrieved November 17, 2005, from http://www.usdoj.gov/criminal/cybercrime/usamarch2001_3.htm

TransUnion. http://www.transunion.com

Jensen J. Zhao

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Zhao, Jensen. "Identity Theft." Encyclopedia of Business and Finance, 2nd ed.. 2007. Retrieved July 28, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-1552100161.html

identity theft

identity theft, the use of one person's personal information by another to commit fraud or other crimes. The most common forms of identity theft occur when someone obtains another person's social security number, driver's license number, date of birth, and the like and uses it to open a fraudulent bank, credit card, cellular telephone, or other account, or to obtain false loans. Criminal identity theft, the most common nonfinancial type, occurs when someone gives another's personal information to a law enforcement officer when he or she is arrested. In addition to the financial losses resulting from identity theft, the person whose personal information has been used will have an erroneous credit or criminal history that is often expensive and time-consuming to correct. The occurrence of identity theft increased significantly beginning in the late 1990s due to the computerization of records and the ability to use another's personal information anonymously over the Internet.

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identity theft

i·den·ti·ty theft • n. the fraudulent acquisition and use of a person's private identifying information, usually for financial gain.

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"identity theft." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. 2009. Encyclopedia.com. 28 Jul. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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