The movie “Identity Thief” opens nationwide in early February, and while we love a good laugh, this flick comes at a cost: the truth.
While the topic deserves the national attention the movie, starring Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy, will generate, the devil is in the details. And many of the details in “Identity Thief” are wrong.
Here are five major plot points that do a disservice to an often-misunderstood crime:
Jurisdiction. The movie turns on the premise that the crook needs to “be standing right here” to make an arrest, as a police officer tells Bateman’s character. Bateman lives in Colorado, while McCarthy’s character is making the false charges in Florida. Not so. "If the perpetrator is found, they are usually arrested in the area in which they live, and all local, state and federal documentation is sent to that court system," said Raul Vargas, an CyberScout fraud operations manager. "Keep in mind, jurisdiction is based upon the area in which the crime occurred, not the area in which the victim lives."
- Statistics. In the film, police also tell Bateman that “5 to 10 percent of the time, the thief is caught”—a wildly optimistic statement. In reality, according to Vargas, fewer than 1 in 1,000 identity thieves are successfully prosecuted. And the crime is far more rampant than this movie shows. In the real world, 20 people are victims of identify theft every minute. That's a new victim every three seconds.
- Logistics. After speaking to police, Bateman’s character tracks down McCarthy halfway across the country. Whileit's a recipe for laughs, in real lifeit's an extremely complicated disaster since identity theft is increasingly happening online and across national borders.
- Criminals’ sophistication. According to the movie’s promotional material, “Unlimited funds have allowed Diana to live it up on the outskirts of Orlando, where the queen of retail buys whatever strikes her fancy.” As identity theft has gotten more attention, it also has gotten more sophisticated. While retail fraud still happens, the trend is toward online shopping and banking fraud where criminals can hijack your wallet without leaving their laptop. When retail fraud does happen, cards are hijacked, used and often discarded. Crooks rarely impersonate a victim for an extended period of time.
- Motivation. In an attempt to round out McCarthy’s criminal character, they’ve given her outsider status and a soft heart. As McCarthy has said in the press, “it is less about her stealing and acquiring things as it is feeling like she is part of these people’s lives.” Well, in real lifeit's always about the stealing. Don’t be mistaken. Identity thieves are after one thing: your money.
If you think you may be a victim of identity theft, reach out to one of your providers. Your bank, credit union, insurer or membership organizations may offer you free identity resolution services from CyberScout.