Assessing our Knowledge of Identity Theft…

Michael D. White and Christopher Fisher (2008). “Assessing our Knowledge of Identity Theft: The Challenges to Effective Prevention and Control Efforts. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 19(1): 3-24.

Identity theft, defined as the unlawful use of another’s identifying information for gain, has quickly become the most prevalent financial crime in the United States. Despite its substantial growth, basic questions about identity theft—such as its prevalence, nature, and consequences; characteristics of offenders and victims; and extent of victims’ losses—remain unanswered. This article highlights the primary challenges that hinder our knowledge about identity theft and simultaneously limit the effectiveness of prevention and intervention efforts. These challenges include limitations of current definitions, the fragmented law enforcement response, problems with existing data sources, and the nature of the crime itself—specifically, how it is committed, discovered, and reported. With these fundamental problems as a backdrop, the authors adopt a situational crime prevention framework and offer recommendations for prevention and intervention that center on reducing opportunity through more secure places and enhanced guardianship but also emphasize systematic data collection and research to improve our knowledge base of the crime.