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

Shannade, 24, was charged with wire fraud, access device fraud and aggravated identity theft, the attorney’s office said in the release. Alexia Fernandez,, "Bad Girls Club Star & Kanye's Muse Shannade Clermont Arrested for Stealing Dead Man's Identity," 11 July 2018 Theft Emerson Rhodes, 62, of the 10700 block of South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, was charged June 23 with identity theft, unlawful use of a credit card and unlawful possession of a fictitious ID. Pioneer Press,, "Vernon Hills police: Woman charged with animal cruelty after dog found in hot garage," 1 July 2018 As part of a deal in which Sanchez, 44, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, prosecutors and Sanchez’s attorney, Cassandra Stamm, agreed to recommend a four-year prison term. Washington Post, "Hundreds charged in health-care fraud sting," 29 June 2018 If convicted, Atrach could face nearly 10 years in prison for charges including identity theft and accessing and using computer data to commit fraud. Anna Millard,, "Hacker Charged For Breaking Into Selena Gomez's Emails," 14 July 2018 Police are seeking Walden on suspicion of identity theft and unlawful taking or driving of a vehicle, police reported. Don Sweeney, sacbee, "Identity theft derails when man poses with ‘his’ new pickup truck, police say," 12 July 2018 Here’s The Simply Money Point: Children are extremely vulnerable to identity theft. Nathan Bachrach,, "Do this if you suspect your child is an identity theft victim," 11 July 2018 The databases have also been used to prevent fraud, including identity theft and falsified official documents. Ian Bogost, The Atlantic, "What the Capital Gazette Shooting Reveals About Face Recognition," 29 June 2018 Daniel Adekunle Ojo, 34, a citizen of Nigeria who was living in Durham, N.C., pleaded guilty to identity theft and fraud, the U.S. Attorney’s office said. Nicholas Rondinone,, "Nigerian Man Admits Stealing $36,000 Using Glastonbury School Employees' Tax Information," 22 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

8 Sep 2018

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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

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