Interrogating a Suspect on the Issue of Identity Theft

Written By: Reid
Dec 01, 2003

The Federal Trade Commission estimated that in 2002 identity theft cost businesses and consumers 53 billion dollars. Because of the prevalence of identity theft, many investigators find themselves having to interrogate a suspect on this issue. Identity theft is an unusual offense because it is not only a crime, but also an MO to commit other crimes. The first consideration, therefore, is to decide upon what issue to accuse the suspect of involvement. The general guideline here is to base the accusation on the strongest evidence. For example, if there is strong evidence indicating that a suspect (using someone else's identity) made fraudulent credit card purchases, the confrontation statement should only address the illegal purchases. During Step Eight the investigator can develop the details of how the suspect obtained the fraudulent credit card. This is similar to an arson/homicide. In most of those cases it is best to confront the suspect on the killing and later develop the details of starting the fire to cover up the homicide.

We have found that when dealing with multiple crimes, it is easier to persuade the suspect to tell the truth to one crime at a time and that once a suspect confesses to one crime, information about other illegal activity is usually forthcoming. On the other hand, an investigator is making this task much more difficult by initially confronting the suspect on both crimes, e.g., "Brian our investigation clearly indicates that you fraudulently obtained a loan using someone else's identity and then illegally defaulted on the loan."

When the strongest evidence does point to identity theft, this should then be the focus of the interrogation, e.g., "Mark, our investigation clearly indicates that you obtained a passport and driver's license using someone else's information." In this example, it would be appropriate to use a transition statement that addresses the purpose for the suspect's actions, e.g., "The reason I wanted to talk to you about this is because, right now, we don't know why you got these documents." A theme can then be developed contrasting the suspect's possible link to international terrorists and using the documents to highjack an airplane to crash into the White House vs. wanting to establish a separate identity for tax purposes, to hide assets in a divorce, to escape government intrusion or possibly to escape from gambling debts or a vindictive ex-wife (whatever the facts of the case suggest).

A universal theme that applies to all cases of identity theft is the ease at which the suspect committed the crime. Credit card companies and banks can be blamed for being greedy and so anxious to issue cards or a loan that they failed to properly check a person's true identity. The following is a theme centered around this approach: "George, I realize this thing is not entirely your fault. Banks and credit card companies are so anxious to get customers that they rush applications through without really properly checking on information. In addition, they entice honest people like yourself to do something like this through their advertisements where they promise quick approvals and an application that requests practically no information. A lot of these companies don't even meet with their customers and everything is done over the internet or through the mail. If they really cared about something like this happening they should not make it so easy to do."

Another angle to consider is how the suspect got the victim's personal information. In most cases this information is obtained through the victim's carelessness or sold on the street or over the internet. This suggests a theme that contrasts breaking into a safe or home to obtain the information vs. inadvertently running across it by seeing documents the victim left out in plain view. If it is probable that the suspect purchased the information, the person who sold it to the suspect can be blamed for approaching the suspect and putting pressure on him to buy it.

In other cases, it may be appropriate to blame curiosity and the media. The theme would go something like this, "Joe, I think what happened here is that you heard on TV or read in the newspaper about how easy it is to get a credit card using someone else's personal information. Just out of curiosity you decided to test the system to see if it was as easy as everyone said it was. After submitting the simple application, to your amazement, they issued you a card. Under normal circumstances you probably would have thrown the card away and never used it, but just when the card arrived so did other bills and you gave into temptation and put charges on your new credit card. I would hate to think that you went into this whole thing with the greedy intent of maxing out the card by buying frivolous things that you didn't really need.

The following are possible alternative questions to consider for identity theft cases:

"How many false identities (false credit cards, fraudulent loans) have you established? Dozens or just a few?"

"How much have you charged to this card? Did you charge the maximum limit, $10,000 or was it less than that?"

"Are you a member of an organized network, perhaps with terrorists affiliation or did you just do this to (hide from your ex-wife)?"

"Did you pay money to bribe people to get this (credit card, home equity loan) or did they simply accept your application at face value?"

Confessions follow a hierarchy. It is psychologically easiest for guilty suspect to admit what they did. Second, they may or may not truthfully acknowledge the method or planning involved in their crime. The most difficult aspect of a crime to reveal is the true motive behind the act. For this reason, again, it is our recommendation that in most cases of identity theft the interrogation focus on the crime that was committed through identity fraud and develop secondary issues after the suspect has confessed to the original issue.

For further information on interrogation approaches to specific types of crimes, consider ordering The Investigator Anthology.

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