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A Brief History of Identity Theft

How We Got Where We Are

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USA, New Jersey, Jersey City, Close up of woman's hand holding open passport
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Identity theft can impact several areas of your life. This is why your Guide has broken things down into ""types of identity theft" – to make it easier to understand where identity theft can hit you, and how to keep an eye out for the tell-tale signs that you may be a victim. Of course, as time has gone by, identity theft has changed.

The first case of identity theft your Guide is aware of is described in the Bible. The story plays out in the 25th chapter of Genesis, when Jacob covered his hands and neck with goat skins in order to trick his father into giving him the blessing of the firstborn which rightfully belonged to his brother, Esau. On the surface, this seems harmless enough, but in that deception Jacob acquired all the property and livestock his father owned. Moreover, most of the ideological differences in the Middle East today that are the cause of all the wars and conflict can be traced back to this event.

In early American history, identity theft was more focused on voter registration, and had more to do with ballot stuffing. But things changed again in the 1930’s with the 21st amendment. This was the law that repealed prohibition, and alcohol was once again legal, but the legal drinking age was determined by individual states until 1984, when the US Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act – (23 USC, Section 158 – which actually deals with national highways.) Between these times, college students would often travel from a state where the legal drinking age was 18 or 19, to their school in a state where the drinking age was 21. Thus was born the "fake ID", the most common type of identity theft for half a century. The worst crime committed using a fake ID during this time was generally underage drinking.

Of course, there was always a fringe criminal element that would duck the law by using an assumed name, and identification was occasionally obtained using the information of a real person – today we call it Identity Assumption. But this was still a rarity, until the influx of illegal immigrants kicked off in 1965, with the passing of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Prior to this law, illegal immigration was far less prevalent, because there were policies in place that allowed migrant workers to come into the country during harvest seasons and various labor jobs. Although communities and states had the odd collection of laws against migrant workers living in the US, these laws were usually overlooked since illegal immigrants tended to establish themselves and contribute to the community.

The last piece of legislation that sparked the wave of identity theft we contend with today was the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (Public Law 99-603, 100 Statute 3359). Since the passage of this law, all employers are required to fill out a US Citizenship and Immigration Services form (commonly called an I-9 form) for each employee. This requires government issued documents to be furnished (typically we use our driver’s license and social security card) to prove the employee is legally allowed to work in America. This in turn has driven the need for valid social security numbers and driver’s licenses for identity thieves. Today, this is the primary source of social security identity theft.

Of course, we are all familiar with financial identity theft since it seems every identity protection program advertised is chiefly focused on our money. The heightened awareness of this type of identity theft stems primarily from credit card companies, who have dealt with fraud almost since the credit card was invented. The perception is really a ruse, since you are not responsible for credit charges that you didn’t make.

Consumers should be more concerned about their debit cards. Although they usually have the logo of a credit card company, these actually access a bank account. This isn’t a line of credit, where you can dispute charges – this is your hard-earned money that pays the bills and buys the food for your family. True, you can work with the bank to get fraudulent charges reversed, and they will eventually give your money back in some cases, but this process can take up to two months.

And in today’s economy, having just one month’s earnings unavailable for that long would put the entire family in a tailspin that would quickly put them out on the streets.

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