There is a difference between “false personation” and “identity theft”. The former refers to misrepresentation of one’s own identity for the purpose of deceiving another individual. An example of “false personation” is when an individual falsely identifies him- or herself as a law enforcement officer. Title 18 of the United States Code makes it a federal crime to falsely present oneself as “an officer or employee acting under the authority of the United States or any department, agency or officer thereof” for the purpose of attaining “money, paper, document, or [a] thing of value.” Similarly, individual states routinely maintain statutes that prohibit individuals from pretending to be government officials, including law enforcement officers.
“Identity theft,” on the other hand, is the act of acquiring through illicit means the data or documentation needed to pass oneself off as another individual, generally for the purpose of material gain. The U.S. Department of Justice defines “identify theft” as:
“. . . all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person's personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain.”
While there is clearly some measure of overlap between the two criminal activities, false personation is not necessarily involved in theft; it is often used in the conduct of sexual assault. It is also used for the purpose of insinuating oneself into a particular environment for psychological reasons or for inflating one’s sense of self-importance. Identity theft, however, is almost always a means to illicitly attaining another person’s money. Where concepts blur is in areas like espionage, in which a foreign intelligence service – the Soviet/Russian foreign intelligence services have routinely engaged in this activity – steals the identity of a deceased American for the purpose of utilizing that dead person’s name, date and place of birth and other personal identifying information to create a cover for their agents to use in infiltrating American communities. In other words, the foreign spy establishes him- or herself as an American citizen using the biographical data of a dead American citizen.