The term “identity” is commonly used arbitrarily and imprecisely in popular media and literature, and the terms “identity theft” and “identity crime” are frequently used interchangeably. Occasional misuses or misinterpretations are not surprising because in the contemporary context, the traditional meanings underlying those concepts have become increasingly known as information and information technology (IT). Formal definitions of identity concepts are therefore in order.


The Oxford English Dictionary defines “identity” as “the set of behavioral or personal characteristics by which an individual is recognized.” The traditional use of the word “identity” spoke to one’s name, familial membership, and occupation (among other applications). The contemporary meaning of “identity” has, however, assumed a candidly IT connotation that extends traditional meanings to include such things as one’s consumer and credit histories, financial accounts, and Social Security number. It is this contemporary usage of “identity” that is at issue when it comes to conceptualizing identity theft and identity crime.

Identity theft is a burgeoning crime of relatively recent origin. To be sure, identity theft is dynamic in nature, as it has evolved over time. As fast as new legislative definitions of identity theft have been framed and novel techniques for enforcing those definitions have emerged, identity predators have abandoned old ...

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