This crime is a product of the electronic age. We all now have a series of electronic analogues of ourselves in the databases of tax authorities, banks, credit agencies insurance companies, and the like. This data is sometimes alarmingly insecure, allowing crooks to borrow your electronic identity, perhaps to steal your money, or impersonate you to commit a credit-card fraud, or obtain a false driving licence or passport using your personal details. This crime has been dubbed identity theft, a relatively new term that has now been incorporated into American law through the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998. Strictly speaking, a computer is not required to commit identity theft — criminals can use personal information obtained from other sources, such as paper records — but it is most often described as though it were electronic data theft. It remains a hot topic in the US, to the extent that some households are reported as buying shredders to make sure nobody can glean personal details from papers thrown out with the garbage.
Vice President Al Gore ... will also endorse legislative proposals to regulate the collection of personal information from children online, as well as a proposal intended to deter identity theft by increasing the penalties against people who use other individuals’ personal data to obtain things like credit cards and driver’s licenses.
New York Times, July 1998
The FBI is advising senior officers in Britain’s National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) on how to combat one of the fastest-growing crimes in the US — “identity theft”.
Independent on Sunday, July 1999