Identity Theft: A Modern Crime

Author: Surbhi Sarwa pursuing BA LLB (H) from University Five Year Law College, University of Rajasthan.

Each year, millions of people are becoming victim of identity theft - a modern type of crime that consists of abuse of one’s identity in order to acquire property gain. The growing trend of this type of crime has stimulated many authors to qualify it as “epidemic” or “national crisis”, asking the national jurisdictions to react with taking over of appropriate legal measures and regulations. The virtual world is becoming an important part of the peoples’ work and personal life, their organization and the modern social community. It creates and promotes continuous revolutionizing of the information technology. This is particularly evident in the last few decades, which are marked with versatile connectivity of information technologies achievements in telecommunications with the material operations of the people. Computer Technologies growing rapidly has become an indispensable part of modern life. With the emergence and spread of the Internet - the global information and communications network the fundamental infrastructure of a virtual world is being developed and this connects and engages people, integrates economies and spreads the culture and education of the mankind. Advancements in information and communication technologies (ICT) inextricably bring new threats to the end-users and society.

The spread of information technology in the world, however, has a negative side: it opens the door to antisocial and criminal behavior in a way that it was impossible, so far. Computer systems offer new and highly sophisticated opportunities for breaking the law, and create a potential to commit traditional types of crimes in non-traditional ways. Especially it is the people’s privacy that is hit the most, hence the scope of its protection moves from material and spatial to the field of information and communication protection. Lately, the dominant role of this information - communications privacy is being emphasized, as well as ensuring that in the globalization process, individuals will realize their material and other interests, while keeping to themselves what they do not want to share with other people.

What is identity Theft? :

Due to the technological advancements and the almost ubiquitous use of computers and the Internet, identity theft is a crime that can occur practically anywhere. It is a crime that consists of unlawful seizure and personal data abuse through which a person is identified (such as Social security number, Credit card no. etc.), in order to gain illegal profit and / or the realization of other criminal purposes. According to the Identity Theft Assumption and Deterrence Act of 1998 (ITADA), the United States Department of Justice defines the act of identity theft as: knowingly transfer[ing] or us[ing], without lawful authority, any name or number that may be used, alone or in conjunction with any other information, to identify a specific individual with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of Federal Law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable State or local law.

Or with other words - Identity theft is stealing someone’s name and reputation for attaining financial gain. Someone else’s identity will allow the criminal to obtain a false identity and then benefit in his own favor at the expense of the person whose identity is stolen. For example - taking bank loan with other name, buying an apartment or car with someone else’s funds. In all genuine cases, this type of crime is carried out without the consent of the person whose identity has been usurped. After collecting the personal information of a victim, the attacker can create a fake identity to impersonate this victim and cheat the victim’s friends in order to destroy the trust relationships on the on-line social networking sites.

Most often, the perpetrators of this type of crime acquire personal information through access to personal documents or information that will lead to the key attributes of one’s identity that will enable its abuse. This information are: identification number, credit card number, passport number, etc. All these information in today’s age of IT - communication expansion, become easily accessible for everyone. Thus, if ever personal data were stored in dusty archives, now they can be easily obtained from certain data basis (proprietary data services), or become widely available online. Social networks (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) that operate in a manner of creating user profiles where people register by entering personal data into mandatory and voluntary fields - widely available, is the best food for this type criminals. In the past few years, this type of crime has become a serious threat to all and everyone and fastest growing financial crime in the world. It is assumed that every 79 seconds, someone’s identity has been stolen, in the world.


Indian Laws:

With a constant increase in the frauds and cyber crimes the Government of India is taking measures to protect the rights of individual to be protected from frauds or identity theft. They are trying to formulate stronger laws to ensure data protection and privacy of citizens. There are 2 ways where Identity Theft can occur:

1. Wrongful collection of personal identity of an individual

2. Wrongful use of personal information of an individual with an intention of causing legal harm to the person whose information was used.

An identity theft is a crime that involves committing of both fraud and theft, therefore the provisions with provided under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) is often invoked along with the Information Technology Act, 2000.

Some of the Sections of Indian Penal Code such as Forgery sec. 464, Making False Documents- sec. 465, Forgery for Purpose of Cheating-sec. 468, Reputation-section 469, using as Genuine a Forged Document-sec. 471 and possession of a document known to be Forged and intending to use it as Genuine-sec. 474 can be coupled with those in the Information Technology Act. IT Act, 2000 (The Information Technology Act) deals with the legislation in India governing cybercrimes. The Sections that deal with Cyber Theft are as follows: sec. 43- punishment by way of penalty and compensation for damage to computer/computer system, etc., sec. 66-Computer related offences, sec.66B-Punishment for dishonestly receiving stolen computer resource or communication device, sec. 66C-Punishment for identity theft, sec. 66D-punishing a person for cheating by personating by using computer resource.

The Government has made certain recommendations to include 2 new sections into the IPC (Indian Penal Code), Section 147A and 419A

Section 147A deals with cheating by using any unique identification feature of any other person shall be punished with imprisonment for a term, which may extend to a period of three years, or with fine or both.

Section 419A deals with cheating by impersonating using a network or computer resource shall be punished with imprisonment for a term, which may extend to a period of five years, or fine or both.



In recent years the global fight against this type of crime has increased mainly in the creation of systems to control the holders of information, control their handling and processing operations and further personal data operations. During this in certain countries data protection is significantly enhanced. There are new measures, new incriminations, special police units, special prosecutors, severe penalties and criminal policy, however, the focus of the struggle for the protection of personal data is not part of the repressive but of the preventive sphere. Hence, the regulations define clear rules for handling personal data, regulates how they should be treated and if necessary destroyed. They determine who and to what extent can have access to foreign data, and in some cases “permanent record” is required. And what is most important, because they insist on real, not only paper protection, independent state bodies are formed, with an aim to monitor and ensure the achievement of the established rules in real life. Almost everywhere, they are equipped with the necessary resources, sometimes powerful, sometimes less powerful, but never meaningless. In this regard, the data from any of the former Yugoslav repblics show that their personal data protection laws are harmonized with the EU standards, and in the field of supervision and care more than 20 people work, which confirms the commitment of these countries to comply with the European trend of protection.


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