Identity Fraud: Prevalence and Links to Alien Illegal Activities

GAO-02-830T Published: Jun 25, 2002. Publicly Released: Jun 25, 2002.
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Identity theft involves "stealing" another person's personal identifying information, such as their Social Security number, date of birth, or mother's maiden name, and using that information to fraudulently establish credit, run up debt, or take over existing financial accounts. Another pervasive category is the use of fraudulent identity documents by aliens to enter the United States illegally to obtain employment and other benefits. The prevalence of identity theft appears to be growing. Moreover, identity theft is not typically a stand-alone crime; rather identity theft is usually a component of one or more white-collar or financial crimes. According to Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) officials, the use of fraudulent documents by aliens is extensive, with INS inspectors intercepting tens of thousands of fraudulent documents at ports of entry in each of the last few years. These documents were presented by aliens attempting to enter the United States to seek employment or obtain naturalization or permanent residency status. Federal investigations have shown that some aliens use fraudulent documents in connection with more serious illegal activities, such as narcotics trafficking and terrorism. Efforts to combat identity fraud in its many forms likely will command continued attention for policymakers and law enforcement to include investigating and prosecuting perpetrators, as well as focusing on prevention measures to make key identification documents and information less susceptible to being counterfeited or otherwise used fraudulently.

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