Friday, 10 August 2012

Criminal Identity Theft and its Newest Victim

Last July, Spanish tourist Hugo Alejandre was enjoying his lunch in a New York park when he was brutally attacked by a man with a hammer. When arrested, the man told police his name was John C. Yoos, and naturally the police believed him. 

Unfortunately for the real John C. Yoos, the man was lying. It was not until a friend jokingly pointed out that a man with the exact same name had been arrested in New York for this barbaric crime. Curious, Yoos looked into what had happened and discovered the perpetrator was a man he had briefly met 10 years prior. It was then that he discovered he is a victim of identity theft. 

This case of identity theft, referred to as criminal identity theft, is one of many across Canada. Criminal identity theft occurs when a fraudster obtains a victim’s personal information and uses it for the purpose of avoiding an arrest or fines. This can result in false arrest, arrest warrants and a criminal record that can go undiscovered for years. 

Chances are for Yoos that the identity theft did not start and end with that blow of a hammer last July. As Yoos recalls, the last time he saw the attacker was about 10 years ago, which is when the identity theft would have originated. Within that time, it is quite possible that the offender lead his entire life from that point on under the name of John C. Yoos- he could have gotten a mortgage, attended school, signed fraudulent cheques and collected government assistance. Incidences such as these largely go unnoticed until there is a reason to check your credit report, or if in the rare case something like this happens and is broadcasted across the media.

Had the real John C. Yoos not discovered that his identity had been stolen and used by someone else to evade arrest, the situation could have ended completely differently. As the offender was in the process of being sentenced under a false name, that record would be attached to Yoos' name. Had he not been notified about the incident from a friend, a warrant could have been put out for his arrest. He could have missed out on job opportunities after failing to pass criminal record checks, or been arrested when stopped for a minor traffic violation. 

Fortunately, Yoos had discovered this incident had taken place just in time, and with enough media attention that clearing his name should be relatively easy. 

As time goes on, it becomes increasingly difficult to prove innocence. Victims of identity theft experience frustration when it comes to proving to creditors, banks and police officers that they are actually the victim, not the perpetrator. When it comes to identity theft, there is an attitude of guilty until proven innocent. 

Criminal identity theft is devastating for its victims. Although it is less common than financial forms of identity theft, it is very much a reality in Canada. Often, criminal identity theft is linked to organized crime with links to other criminal activities such as drug trafficking and gang violence. These criminals use the identities of others in order to continue their crimes and avoid arrest, often with the aliases of numerous innocent people. 

For John C. Yoos, there is a long road ahead of him undoing the damages caused by the perpetrator. As a Case Manager who has worked with numerous victims of criminal identity theft, I can honestly say that that it will take a lot of phone calls, faxes, and possibly court visits to clear his name and ensure that no further damage is done. 

‘Criminal Identity Theft and its Newest Victim’ was written by Heather. Heather is a Case Manager at the Canadian Identity Theft Support Centre.

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