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 quartet has been charged with extortion, money laundering, and identity theft. Cyrus Farivar, Ars Technica, "All of’s alleged co-owners arrested on extortion charges," 17 May 2018 The company is offering free credit monitoring and identity theft protection to services people who were potentially impacted by the data security incident. Connor Sheets,, "Data breach could impact some patients of medical lab chain with Alabama locations," 22 Apr. 2018 There is no evidence that CareFirst member information was improperly used, but the insurer is offering free credit monitoring and identity theft protection for those affected for two years. Andrea K. Mcdaniels,, "6,800 affected in CareFirst phishing incident," 30 Mar. 2018 The case took a turn when a second person in Oceanside tried to commit identity theft against the same man whose identity Anduaga had stolen in 1983. Alex Riggins,, "Man who stole government benefits for 37 years is sentenced to 37 months in federal prison," 14 July 2018 The same Javelin study found that 60 percent of children who become identity theft victims know the person who steals their information. Nathan Bachrach,, "Do this if you suspect your child is an identity theft victim," 11 July 2018 The bank is offering free identity theft protection to any affected customers. Dana Burke, Houston Chronicle, "Former bank contractor arrested in Friendswood, allegedly with private customer information," 5 July 2018 The Austin Police Department is investigating the identity theft case, the Austin-American Statesman reports. CBS News, "Thieves drain bank account of oldest living U.S. veteran, family says," 1 July 2018 James McQuiggan and Clay Posey discuss why identity theft is a growing problem in Florida and how to stay safe online. Hal Boedeker,, "Caylee Anthony: Belvin Perry discusses toddler's story," 20 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

3 Nov 2018

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Time Traveler for identity theft

The first known use of identity theft was in 1964

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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

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