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Identity Thief: Real-life takeaways from the movie

Christine Bryant is a freelance writer based in Columbus, OH, where she lives with her husband and daughter. She writes for SheKnows, as well as several other publications that include newspapers and magazines. She writes on topics such ...

Here's what you need to know

Identity Thief was a box office hit, but identity theft is an experience no one wants to have in real life. Identity theft can be anything but funny when you are suddenly the victim of this prevalent crime. Here's what you need to know about identity theft after seeing Hollywood's version.

Happy woman using laptop

In the movie Identity Thief, Jason Bateman plays the victim of identity theft, caused by the antics of a character played by Melissa McCarthy.

In real life, once criminals gain access to a few pieces of information that identify you, they may sell your information, open new accounts in your name and even start a new life as you.

While Hollywood often takes liberties when making movies, here are some real-life takeaways from the movie everyone should know in case you become a victim of identity theft.

Jurisdiction

Bateman's character lives in Colorado, while McCarthy's character is making the false charges in Florida. Jurisdiction is a road block for Bateman's character because he believes McCarthy must come to Colorado to be prosecuted.

However, experts say if the perpetrator is found, she is usually arrested in the area in which she lives, and all local, state and federal documentation is sent to that court system.

"Keep in mind, jurisdiction is based upon the area in which the crime occurred, not the area in which the victim lives," said Raul Vargas, a fraud operations manager with IDentity Theft 911.

Statistics

In the film, police inform Bateman's character that thieves are caught 5 to 10 percent of the time. In reality, fewer than one in 1,000 identity thieves are successfully prosecuted, Vargas says.

"And the crime is far more rampant than this movie shows," he said. "In the real world, 20 people are victims of identity theft every minute. That's a new victim every three seconds."

Logistics

After speaking to police, Bateman's character tracks down McCarthy — more than 2,000 miles away from where he lives.

"In real life, it's extremely complicated, since identity theft is increasingly happening online and across national borders," Vargas said.

Sophistication

As identity theft has received more attention, it has also become more sophisticated.

While retail fraud still occurs, the trend is toward online shopping and banking fraud — where criminals can hijack your wallet without ever leaving their laptops, Vargas said.

In the movie, McCarthy's character goes on unlimited shopping sprees, spending several days in Orlando.

"When retail fraud does happen, cards are hijacked, used and often discarded," he said. "Crooks rarely impersonate a victim for an extended period of time."

Motivation

Although McCarthy's character comes across as funny and loveable, identity thieves are anything but.

If there's one real-life takeaway from this movie, it's this — identity theft is always about the stealing and not about becoming a part of a person's life.

"Don't be mistaken," Vargas said. "Identity thieves are after one thing: your money."

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