The term “identity theft” is a slight misnomer since it’s not literally possible to steal someone’s identity. Some people refer instead to “identity fraud” or simply to “impersonation.” But the idea is the same—a perpetrator obtains critical information about the victim that allows him to function in the victim’s place for some gain (usually financial).
The concept of impersonation is certainly not new. Stories like Mark Twain’s 1881 classic “The Prince and the Pauper” come to mind, and there are thousands of fictional and real life examples of identity theft pre-dating the digital age. What the Internet contributes to identity theft is ease and anonymity. As Peter Steiner’s famous cartoon states, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”
Internet Safety Podcast Episode 11: Identity Theft