V. Identity Theft Offenders
The paucity of research on identity theft coupled with the low clearance rate makes it difficult to have a clear idea of what those who engage in this offense are like. From what is known about offenders, there is considerable diversity in regards to the race, age, gender, and criminal background of identity thieves. To gain an understanding of the type of individual who commits identity theft, Gordon, Rebovich, Choo, and Gordon (2007) examined U.S. Secret Service closed cases with an identity theft component from 2000–2006. They found that most offenders (42.5%) were between the ages of 25 and 34 when the case was opened. Another one-third fell within the 35–49 age group. Using data from a large metropolitan police department in Florida, Allison et al. (2005) found that offenders ranged in age from 28 to 49 with a mean age of 32.
Both studies found similar patterns regarding race. Gordon et al. (2007) found that the majority of the offenders were black (54%), with white offenders accounting for 38% of offenders and fewer than 5% of offenders being Hispanic. Allison et al. (2005) found that the distribution of offenders was 69% black, 27% white, and less than 1% Hispanic or Asian. The two studies differed in terms of the gender of offenders. Gordon et al. found that nearly two thirds of the offenders were male. Whereas, Allison et al. found that 63% of offenders were female. Gordon et al. also examined the place of birth of the offenders. They found that nearly a quarter of offenders were foreign born. The countries most represented by foreign-born offenders, in rank order, were Mexico, Nigeria, the United Kingdom, Cuba, and Israel.
In their qualitative study of identity thieves, Copes and Vieraitis (2007, 2008) sought to gain an understanding of federally convicted identity thieves’ experiences by asking offenders to describe their past and current family situations. They found that most offenders were currently married or had been married in their lifetimes: 25% of the offenders were married, 31% were separated/divorced, 32% had never been married, and 5% were widowed. Approximately 75% of the offenders had children. With respect to educational achievement, the majority of offenders had at least some college education.
Prior arrest patterns indicated that a large portion of the offenders had engaged in various types of offenses, including drug, property, and violent crimes. Yet the majority of them claimed that they only committed identity thefts or comparable frauds (e.g., check fraud). In total, 63% of the offenders reported prior arrests and most were arrested for financial fraud or identity theft (44%), but drug use/sales (19%) and property crimes (22%) were also relatively common (Copes & Vieraitis, 2008). This finding is consistent with that of Gordon et al. (2007), who found that while the majority of defendants had no prior arrests, those who did have criminal histories tended to commit fraud and theft-related offenses.
Copes and Vieraitis (2007) also questioned identity thieves about their prior drug use. Approximately 58% had tried drugs in their lifetime—mostly marijuana, cocaine in various forms, and methamphetamine. Only 37% reported having been addicted to their drug of choice. Of those offenders who said that they were using drugs while committing identity theft, 24% reported that the drug use contributed to their offense. Gordon et al. (2007) did not ask specifically about drug use, but they did discover that nearly 10% of the defendants they studied had previous arrests for drug-related offenses.