Identity theft tends to be a much broader term in the public imagination than it is in a legal sense. For example, people tend to think that any offense involving someone else’s name or credit automatically qualifies as identity theft. 

It is true that identity theft usually involves the misuse of another person’s credit. However, not every offense involving the use of someone else’s credit amounts to identity theft. Some fall into a different category, such as credit card fraud. 

Examples of identity theft 

Identity theft is less about individual purchases and more about capturing the spending power of someone else’s credit. It involves opening new credit accounts or taking control of existing ones by making use of personally identifiable information obtained through illegal means. Examples of information used to commit identity theft include the following: 

  • Social Security number 
  • Name 
  • Credit card number 
  • Birthdate 

Examples of credit card fraud 

Credit card fraud involves making unauthorized purchases in someone else’s name by gaining access to his or her credit or debit card information. It is not always necessary to obtain the card itself. Access to information such as card numbers and PINs allow a person to make fraudulent purchases in someone else’s name without having physical possession of the card. The term for unlawful transactions of this nature is card-not-present fraud. 

However, credit card fraud may also involve using a lost or stolen card itself to make fraudulent purchases, either online or in person. Credit card fraud can also involve intercepting a new card that the company sends to the recipient or creating counterfeit cards using information gained with a “skimmer” device. This type of fraud has become less common with the widespread implementation of EMV chip technology in U.S. credit and debit cards. 

Identity theft and credit card fraud are similar in that there are laws against each at the state and federal level. Violations may involve hefty fines and/or jail time.