Published: August 25, 2017
3 Minutes

What Is Criminal Identity Theft?


Alison Grace Johansen

Contributing writer

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A police officer conducting a traffic stop, illustrating the potential consequences of criminal identity theft.


Criminal identity theft occurs when someone cited or arrested for a crime presents himself as another person, by using that person’s name and identifying information. The result is a criminal record in the name of the victim, who may not learn of the crime until it’s too late. In committing criminal identity theft, the perpetrator may provide photo identification—either real or counterfeit—or simply information, such as a name and a driver’s license or Social Security number.

Since identity theft is a crime, the term “criminal identity theft” can be confusing, but it refers specifically to the crime of intentionally misleading law enforcement to believe that the person being cited or arrested is someone else. The California Attorney General’s office says criminal identity theft doesn’t happen a lot, but when it does, the ramifications can be serious.

Worst-case scenario?

How serious? In 2016, Mexican national Fernando Neave-Ceniceros, 42, pleaded guilty to illegally using someone else’s Social Security number to hide his identity and lack of legal status in the U.S. The Associated Press reports that when authorities arrested and fingerprinted Neave-Ceniceros as a teenager, he used the false identity. That incident, decades ago, wrongly linked Neave-Ceniceros to the victim, Marcus Calvillo.

Over the years, courts convicted Neave-Ceniceros of seven felonies, including indecent liberties with a child—all in Calvillo’s name. Calvillo was in his early 20s when he learned someone had stolen his identity. He lost his job, and his marriage fell apart because of the identity theft, the AP story said.

More common cases of criminal identity theft

The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) says that in many situations, the identity thief commits criminal identity theft by using someone else’s information when cited for a traffic or misdemeanor violation. If the impostor ignores a requirement to show up in court, authorities may issue an arrest warrant. Since it’s in the name of the identity theft victim, authorities may later arrest the victim for failure to appear in court. The ITRC has a helpful fact sheet for dealing with criminal identity theft.

If you learn that you’re a victim of criminal identity theft, you need to contact both the arresting law enforcement agency and your local law enforcement agency. You may need to have your local agency take your fingerprints and share them with the arresting agency to help prove that you are who you say you are—and not who the arresting agency thinks you are.

If you have an identity theft protection service that includes remediation services, contact them to see what kind of assistance—legal and otherwise—they’re able to provide as part of their services.

Criminal identity theft may be far from the most common type of identity theft, but it’s one of the more serious ones. If you think you may be a victim, act quickly.

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Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. LifeLock offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about cyber safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses.

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