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What is traditional vs. synthetic identity theft?

On Behalf of | Nov 24, 2021 | Criminal Defense

Every year, thousands of people in West Virginia and throughout the country fall prey to identity theft. This type of fraud can come in multiple forms. In the context of criminal law, understanding the differences between these types of fraudulent acts is important for developing an defense effective strategy.

Traditional vs. synthetic identity theft

With traditional identity theft, a fraudster will steal vital personal information such as Social Security numbers, dates of birth, driver’s license numbers, names and addresses, among others. This information is available through a variety of means, either digital or physical in nature, that can include:

  • Physical theft, including sifting through trash
  • Hacking
  • Fraud or trickery
  • Phishing scams
  • Redirecting or intercepting mail

One of the most common forms of identity theft is an email scam in which the perpetrator masquerades as a trusted vendor like a bank or telephone company to lure the victim into giving up personal data. Once the fraudster has gotten ahold of the information, they can monetize it in a number of ways, including opening new lines of credit, selling that information over the web or even renting and then stealing rental cars.

Synthetic identity theft differs from traditional identity theft in that some of the information used in the process is real, usually stolen, while some of it is entirely fake. The end result, however, in terms of the use of the fraudulent identity, is largely similar to traditional identity theft.

Why does the difference matter?

Because synthetic identity theft occurs using a combination of real and fake information, identity protection programs that monitor and alert clients to suspected identity theft often miss this type of fraud. Attorneys who defend criminal cases of synthetic identity theft also may have the advantage of a higher difficulty on the state’s part to prove its case.

In West Virginia, identity theft charges are associated with a range of penalties such as fines or potential jail time. Individuals who have been accused of identity theft, regardless of whether it is synthetic or traditional, require a solid defense using all of the tools available in the legal system.