You’ve probably come across the term identity theft. But what about criminal identity theft? What does it mean?

Criminal identity theft refers to a crime where a thief impersonates another person when caught committing a crime. The thief uses an individual’s personally identifiable information, including full name, driver’s license number, Social Security number and other information, during investigation or arrest.

If this happens, the identity thief can get away, and the victim might face serious problems with law enforcement agencies.

According to the Crime Museum, 15 million people in the United States experience identity theft every single year. Here’s everything you need to know about criminal identity theft and how to avoid becoming a victim.

How Does Criminal Identity Theft Occur?

Criminal identity theft occurs when a thief steals your identity and presents it to the police or other law enforcement bodies when arrested. Criminals can get their hands on your information in many ways, including:

  • Hackers can use phishing scams and malware to trick you into handing over your details.
  • Scammers can trick you into clicking links to malicious sites where they can steal your identity.
  • Some criminals can gain information about you via cyberstalking
  • If you lose your wallet or it gets stolen, some individuals can gain access to your identifying details
  • Others can buy their victims’ information on the dark web when a data breach happens
  • Regardless of how they gain your information, criminals can use it to impersonate you when cited for a misdemeanor, traffic violation or even a serious crime. If the imposter appears in court and pleads guilty, a criminal record can automatically get established in your name.
  • When a criminal gets arrested for a serious public offense, your data can get recorded in the county or state criminal record database. This can spell doom for you, as you might not gain employment until you clear your name.

What to Do If You’re a Victim of Criminal Identity Theft?

Criminal identity theft is hard to crack, unlike normal identity theft. That is because a criminal record exists under your name. But all is not lost! Here are a few steps you can take to help address this type of identity theft.

File a Police Report

If you can’t secure a job because a background check shows you have a criminal record you don’t know about, contact the authorities. Visit your local police and file a report to prove your identity. You can offer to provide your birth certificate, photographs SSN and other information that can be compared to the thief’s identity.

Get Your Record Straight

You need to put your record straight by providing the police with your alibi, fingerprints and even calling a witness who can testify in your defense.

Clearance Letter

Get a clearance letter or certificate of release from the court or police to prove your innocence and sign off your name from the criminal records. It’s wise to carry this letter with you at all times because the police and judicial databases take time to get updated.

Contact Your State’s Attorney General

Consult your state’s attorney general if the impersonator case went through the court system.

5 Tips to Help Protect Yourself from Criminal Identity Theft

1. Monitor Your Identity and Credit Report

Consider signing up for an identity theft protection. These monitoring services, like IdentityIQ are dedicated to protecting you from identity thieves. IdentityIQ offers real-time fraud and SSN alerts, credit reports with scores from the major credit bureaus and identity theft insurance.

2. Freeze Your Credit

If you identify fraudulent activities in your report, you can freeze it to help ensure that no one can borrow a loan or take out a new credit card using your name.

3. Be Careful What You Share

Be mindful of who and where you share your information: Never share your personally identifiable information, like your SSN and full name, with individuals you don’t recognize. On top of that, avoid visiting malicious websites, such as those not designated by an HTTPS:// before the URL as they are unsecured.

4. Shred Valuable Documents

Shred documents first before throwing them into the trash. These documents include bank statements, credit card offers, 401(k) saving accounts statements and others.

5. Use Unique Passwords

Prevent hackers from gaining access to your devices and online accounts by using unique and strong passwords comprising letters, numbers and symbols.

Biometric identification like facial recognition and fingerprints can add another layer of protection to your devices.