ITRC Fact Sheet 110
Criminal Identity Theft: A Guide to the Crime


This guide includes:

What is criminal identity theft?

Criminal identity theft occurs when an imposter provides to law enforcement another person’s name and personal information (such as a drivers’ license, date of birth, or Social Security Number) during an investigation or upon arrest.  This includes the use of counterfeit documents using another person’s data.  The imposter may fraudulently obtain a driver’s license or identification card in the victim’s name and provide that identification document to law enforcement.  Or, the imposter, without showing any photo identification, verbally provides the name and personal information of another individual.

In many cases, the imposter is cited for a traffic violation or for a misdemeanor violation.  The imposter signs the citation and promises to appear in court.  If the imposter does not appear in court, the magistrate may issue a bench warrant, but the warrant of arrest will be under the victim’s name.  The identity theft victim will probably not know there is a warrant of arrest issued under his or her name.  The victim may unexpectedly be detained pursuant to a routine traffic stop and then subsequently arrested because of the outstanding bench warrant.

In some cases, the imposter will appear in court for the traffic or misdemeanor violation and plead guilty without the victim being aware of this event.  This in turn establishes a criminal record for those actions; however, that record is now in the victim’s name. In other cases, the imposter is arrested and booked at the county jail for a felony or another serious public offense, such as a DUI.  This arrest or court information is then recorded in the countywide data base and is usually transferred to the state’s criminal records database. From there, it may be forwarded to the national crime index database, at the National Crime Information Center (NCIC).

Criminal Record Databases

A criminal record is created when the imposter is first “booked,” or a warrant of arrest is issued.  The problem is that the information in the criminal records database is for that of the victim, not the imposter.  The information is also likely to be entered into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database.

Some identity theft victims, unaware of the earlier criminal activity by the imposter, may learn of the impersonation when the victim is denied employment or terminated from employment. In these cases, the employer likely conducted a background investigation and had relied upon the criminal history found under the victim’s name.  The employer is legally obligated to inform the victim of the reason for the rejection of employment.  The burden of clearing one’s name within the criminal justice system falls primarily on the victim.  The victim must act quickly and assertively to minimize the damage. The responsibility to correct the erroneous data in the various criminal justice computer systems lies with the officials working within the criminal justice system.  There are no clearly established procedures for clearing one’s wrongful criminal record.

The purpose of this guide is to provide information on the steps you must take to clear your name. Be aware that the procedures to correct the record within the criminal justice databases are likely to be somewhat different from state to state, and even from jurisdiction to jurisdiction within the same state.


Organizing Your Case

In dealing with any identity theft issue, it is vital that you keep a detailed log of all conversations, including dates, names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses.

  • Please note and record the time spent and any expenses incurred, as you might someday be able to request restitution from the courts.
  • Confirm conversations in writing, especially ones that directly deal with clearing criminal records.
  • Send correspondence by certified mail, return receipt requested.
  • Keep copies of all letters and documents for your files.
  • If you must correspond by e-mail, ask the recipient to verify receipt of the letter with the original message attached.
  • However, we must remind you that electronic messages are not secure and should be used sparingly.
  • Never send anything by e-mail that you would not want publicly published.

See ITRC Fact Sheet FS 106 - Organizing Your Case, to help you track your efforts.

General Steps to Clear Your Name

The following are general steps you must take to clear your name of the erroneous criminal record.  These procedures are likely to vary somewhat from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Working with Law Enforcement Agencies:

  • Contact the arresting law enforcement agency
    • Explain this is a case of misidentification and that someone is using your personal information.
    • Request that the arresting law enforcement agency indicate what form/s of identification or biometric data were collected or captured at the time of arrest or citation (fingerprints, photo). Get as much detail about the crime as possible. This information will help you to prove your innocence.
  • Contact your local law enforcement agency.
    • File a “false personation”/identity theft report.
    • Ask your local law enforcement agency to take prints and verify your identity and forward directly to the arresting law enforcement agency. They may want:
      • A full set of your fingerprints
      • Your photograph
      • Any photo identification documents such as a driver’s license, passport, or U.S. legal presence documents.
    • If fingerprints were NOT taken by the arresting law enforcement agency; use signature verification and any relative remarks made on the arrest or citation form by the officer, i.e. scars, marks, tattoos, and height and weight.
  • Request that the arresting law enforcement agency compare the prints and/or photographs to establish your innocence. Once your identity has been established, the arresting law enforcement agency should recall any warrants and issue a “clearance letter” or certificate of release (if you were arrested/booked) which you will need to keep in your possession at all times.
  • Request that the arresting law enforcement agency file with the district attorney’s office and/or court of jurisdiction the follow-up investigation.
  • Request that the arresting law enforcement agency change all records from your name to the imposter’s true identity or to John Doe if unknown.
  • Request the arresting law enforcement agency forward a clearance update to the levels of databases that must be cleared include city, county, state, and federal data bases.

Note: Due to authentication issues, most law enforcement agencies will only accept this information in person, or by submission from another law enforcement agency.

Working with the Court:

You will need to determine the specific law(s) in your state that enable you to clear your name in the court records. A judge or magistrate will be required to make this determination.

From the court you will need to request:

  • A declaration that you are factually innocent of charges based upon the follow-up impersonation investigation by the law enforcement agency, or declarations, affidavits, or other material and relevant information.
  • This action will change the name on the arrest records and the warrant of arrest to that of the imposter (if the true identity of the imposter is known).
  • Your name will then be known as an alias of the imposter.
  • The court should be requested to provide written verification for you to carry.


Frequently Asked Questions:

What if the victim of identity theft lives in one county and the criminal event including the arrest warrant, traffic citation, or criminal conviction originated from another county or state?

  • Work with your local law enforcement agency to follow the steps listed above.
  • Let the local law enforcement agency handle any communication of your identification information to the law agency that issued the warrant. 
  • Contact the Department of Motor Vehicles only if the imposter has compromised your driving record or driver’s license number.

What if law enforcement determines the victim’s innocence but doesn’t know the true name of the imposter?

In the event that the imposter’s true name is not yet known, request the “key name,” or primary name, is switched from your name to the name “John Doe” with your name noted as an alias.

What if the law enforcement agency does not believe that an imposter committed the crime/s and arrests the victim?

At this point the victim will need legal counsel.  The victim will also need to show any available evidence to prove that he/she was not at the location of the crime when it occurred in order to provide an alibi.  Employment work history and statements from witnesses should be effective.

What if fingerprints were not taken by the arresting officer when the imposter was arrested?

Use signature verification and any relative remarks made on the arrest or citation form by the officer such as scars, marks, tattoos, and height and weight. 

Are there any agencies that might help the victim?

The State Attorney General’s Office or the US Department of Justice may be able to assist.  See the ITRC State and Local Resources page for links to your state resources.

Should the victim hire an attorney?

This depends upon the severity of the case.  If the charges are serious and the resolution appears to be complicated and difficult, it would be a good idea to have legal counsel.  However, this is a personal issue to be decided by the victim.

Should the victim change their Social Security number or driver’s license number?

This depends on how severe the case and to what degree the identity has been affected.  Please see ITRC Fact Sheet FS 113 - Should I change my Social Security Number?  and ITRC Solution SN 11 - Social Security Change Check List regarding changing your Social Security Number.

In addition to working with law enforcement and the court system, are there any other steps the victim should take to clear his/her name?

We suggest that the victim check their credit report often for any indications that the issue may have crossed over into financial areas.  We recommend that victims check their credit reports every 4 months, using the free annual credit report system, and staggering the requests.  For more on this, please see ITRC Fact Sheet FS 125 - Federal Annual Credit Report or ITRC Solution SN 03 - Contacting the CRAs to Place a Fraud Alert regarding credit reports.

What additional considerations should I be aware of regarding employment?

Even though you may have cleared up the records with the local, state and federal systems, it is possible for negative information to still show up on a background report.  If this should occur, you must ask the company which background screening company they used.  You will then need to show your documentation of clearance to that background screening company in order to clear their records.  You will also want to provide the clearance documents directly to the employer to help defuse the matter.

Are there any precautions individuals can take to prevent becoming a victim of criminal identity theft?

There is no “early detection” system to alert victims of criminal identity theft.  However, you should take all the same precautions that you would take to prevent financial identity theft.  There are many simple things that can be done to protect your information from use by others, including criminal identity thieves.  Please see ITRC Section on ID Theft Prevention Tips under Victim Resources.


This fact sheet should not be used in lieu of legal advice. Any requests to reproduce this material, other than by individual victims for their own use, should be directed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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