identity theft


Definition of identity theft

: the illegal use of someone else's personal information (such as a Social Security number) especially in order to obtain money or credit

Examples of identity theft in a Sentence

How can we protect ourselves against identity theft?

Recent Examples on the Web

The defendants are charged with felony counts of mail fraud, conspiracy, and aggravated identity theft. Justin Rohrlich, Quartz, "How a crew of fraudsters allegedly stole $19 million worth of iPhones," 4 June 2019 Last year, the Federal Trade Commission received 14,000 complaints involving identity theft targeting people 19 and younger, about 3.7% of complaints for all age groups. Yuka Hayashi, WSJ, "New on Parents’ To-Do List: Checking Children’s Credit History," 28 Aug. 2018 An identity theft charge was dropped as part of the deal. Claudia Lauer, The Seattle Times, "Algerian tied to cartoonist death plot guilty of terrorism," 23 July 2018 Instructor is Glen Garrity, retired police detective, identity theft expert and founder of G2 Safeguards, a Fountain Valley firm that teaches business defense and protection seminars. Laura Groch,, "North County Business Briefs, May 31," 31 May 2018 An employee at a Charlotte medical office shared about 100 patients' information with identity theft suspects, according to a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police search warrant. Jane Wester, charlotteobserver, "Identity theft case hits patients at Charlotte medical office, documents say | Charlotte Observer," 19 Apr. 2018 An additional two years in prison may be tacked on to Burnside’s sentence, because of a previous identity theft conviction. Karen Pilarski, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Brookfield man allegedly rented out stolen car for drugs and money," 29 Mar. 2018 The lapses potentially exposed sensitive medical information, left patients at risk for identity theft and could lead to hefty fines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights. Kelsey Ryan, kansascity, "Thousands of patients' data stolen after Children's Mercy employees fall for scam," 3 July 2018 Keeping it in the family All too often, child-identity theft is an inside job. NBC News, "More than 1 million children were victims of ID theft last year," 21 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'identity theft.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of identity theft

1964, in the meaning defined above

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Statistics for identity theft

Last Updated

16 Jun 2019

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Time Traveler for identity theft

The first known use of identity theft was in 1964

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More Definitions for identity theft

identity theft


Financial Definition of identity theft

What It Is

Identity theft is the crime of using another person's personal information, credit history or other identifying characteristics in order to make purchases or borrow money without that person's permission.

How It Works

Let's say John Doe is at work and happens to see some paperwork on a co-worker's desk. The paperwork is a stack of applications for credit from customers. The applications list each person's name, birth date, social security number and bank information. John Doe photocopies an application for Jane Smith. He then uses Jane's information to apply for a credit card in her name, which he then uses to buy a motorcycle and a beer stein collection.

Jane is a responsible adult and therefore checks her credit every four months (once a year for each of the three credit bureaus). She notices the "new" credit card and the massive balance for the motorcycle and beer-stein spree. She calls the credit card company to dispute the charges and files a police report. In the meantime, she is unable to qualify for a mortgage because lenders feel she is carrying too much debt (thanks to the thief), and collection agencies are calling her for credit card payments.

Why It Matters

Identity theft often involves stealing electronic data. It is very time-consuming for victims to battle and takes a long time to recover from. Often, the perpetrators are never caught, and the victims' credit scores suffer tremendously. Accordingly, smart consumers check their credit often in order to detect identity theft before it gets out of hand (or statutes of limitation occur), they avoid giving data out unnecessarily, and they are alert to changes in normal financial routines, such as bills that no longer arrive, mysterious bank charges, or communications from the IRS that more than one tax return was filed in your name.

Source: Investing Answers

identity theft


English Language Learners Definition of identity theft

: the illegal use of someone else's personal identifying information (such as a Social Security number) in order to get money or credit

identity theft

Legal Definition of identity theft

see theft

More from Merriam-Webster on identity theft

Spanish Central: Translation of identity theft Encyclopedia article about identity theft

Comments on identity theft

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to take the place or position of

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