You’re probably familiar with the idea of identity theft, but may not be as familiar with the different types. There are a wide variety of ways that a thief can use your personally identifiable information, and each can carry its own unique criminal charges and consequences.

One of the unfortunate residual types of this wrongdoing is called criminal identity theft. You’d think that all identity theft is criminal, and you’d be correct to think so, but that’s not what the word refers to in this case.

Criminal identity theft is a specific crime in which the person who has access to your identifying information provides your name and identity to law enforcement officers. This could be a simple matter like a speeding ticket all the way up to a full-fledged arrest situation, but in either case the thief has provided your name and documentation to the police. It’s often a residual crime due to the fact that the thief already had your information and might have intended to use it (or already used it) for other identity theft purposes, like opening a new credit card account.

The chief problem with criminal identity theft is you don’t know it happened, and therefore you don’t take the appropriate steps to resolve the criminal charge that has been applied to your identity. Even something like a speeding ticket can have serious consequences. When the ticket goes unpaid or you fail to appear in court to contest it, a judge will issue a bench warrant for your arrest. Unfortunately, our law enforcement officials are very busy handling serious crimes, and aren’t likely to go knocking on doors informing the public about their unpaid speeding tickets. Once the bench warrant is issued, literally years could go by before it ever comes up in the system.

Sadly, one of the more common ways a warrant comes to light is when you attempt to get a new job, serve in a volunteer position, or any other circumstance that requires a preliminary background check. It could also come up if you are actually pulled over by the police, meaning the inconvenient traffic stop just escalated into you being placed in the back of a police car for outstanding warrants.

If you have reason to believe your identity has been stolen or your personal information has been accessed by someone for illegal purposes, it’s imperative that you file a police report. It’s far easier to believe you weren’t responsible for the initial interaction with the police if you can demonstrate that someone has accessed and used your identity, and that you reported it at the time it occurred.

But if someone does provide your identity to the police without your knowledge, there are some steps you can take after it’s come to light.

  • First, reach out to both law enforcement offices: the one where the initial incident took place and where the warrant for your arrest was issued, and your own local law enforcement agency. Explain that this is a case of criminal identity theft, and you’d like copies of all arrest information including the individual’s signature on any tickets or documents, photos, fingerprints, and any other data they collected. Remember, if the initial incident was a violent crime, there may even be DNA evidence collected at the time of the arrest or when charges were filed. You can request that your local police take your fingerprints for comparison in an effort to prove you were not the person who was picked up at the time of the initial incident.
  • Next, petition the court to change the name on the arrest records to reflect that it was either an unknown person or, if the identity of the correct individual is now known, to list that your name is a known alias for that individual. You can also request a written verification of the court’s findings to keep with you at all times in case you are ever mistaken for that individual or his crimes in the future.

The rest of this ITRC Fact Sheet will give you more information on resolving this issue, and remember that laws can vary from state to state.


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