Economic Fraud and Identity-related Crime

All over the world, societies are increasingly reliant on identification information. Identity-related information about individuals is used e.g. for banking, shopping, travelling and collecting social assistance. Increasingly, such information also includes biometric information. The more our society becomes computerized, the more avenues are open for criminals to exploit the vulnerabilities of those systems to commit identity-related crimes. Identity-related crime generates significant profits for criminals each year, with far-reaching impact not only on economies and online commerce, but also on individuals who fall victim to it.

Where identity-related information is obtained by criminals, it can be abused to launder money, to commit fraud and to enable illicit activities for organized crime purposes, including acts of corruption, human trafficking, migrant smuggling and even terrorism. Millions of dollars can be stolen using false identification either in highly sophisticated single events, or through millions of smaller incidents. In the hands of unscrupulous criminals, these criminal profits can be used to commit further crimes.

UNODC has been actively working to develop new tools to assist Member States in strengthening their legal, institutional and operational capacities in order to combat economic fraud and identity-related crime at the domestic level, and to effectively engage in international cooperation against these crimes. To that end, UNODC has released a study on identity-related crime, published a Handbook on identity-related crime and convened expert group meetings on the subject.

Study on identity-related crime

In 2007, UNODC released a study on Fraud and the criminal misuse and falsification of identity (E/CN.15/2007/8 and Add. 1, 2 and 3) commissioned by UNODC and submitted to the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice at its sixteenth session in line with Economic and Social Council resolution 2004/26.

There were two key achievements of that study. Firstly, it adopted a broad approach to the concept of identity-related crime to cover all forms of illicit conduct involving an individual's identity, including identity fraud and identity theft. Secondly, it approached identity-related crimes from a new criminal justice perspective that treated identity-related crimes as distinct criminal offences, rather than merely criminalizing other offences using false identities.

Handbook on identity-related crime

Building on the findings and recommendations of that study, UNODC published a Handbook on Identity-related Crime in 2011. The main objective of the Handbook is to set out a range of options and consideration to be taken into account when addressing domestic criminal justice matters pertaining to identity-related crime, including specific challenges in the field of international cooperation and potential partnerships between public and private sectors. The Handbook is intended for use by legislators, policy-makers, prosecutors and law enforcement practitioners, as well as non-governmental stakeholders.
Available in the following languages: English Spanish

Core group of experts on action against identity-related crime

On the basis of its mandates arising from ECOSOC resolutions 2004/26 and 2007/20, UNODC launched a consultative platform on identity-related crime with the aim of bringing together senior public sector representatives, business leaders, international and regional organizations and other stakeholders to pool experience, develop strategies, facilitate further research and agree on practical action against identity-related crime.

In this context, a multi-stakeholder core group of experts on identity-related crime was established by UNODC in 2007. The core group of experts brought together representative from Member States and international organizations as well as representatives from the private sector and experts from academia. It was geared towards facilitating the exchange of views, information and expertise among those actors on the best course of strategic, policy and legal action against identity-related crime, as well as promoting their mutual understanding and cooperation to this effect.

The group met six times between 2007 and 2013. Work planned by the group on the development of model legislation on identity-related crime did not proceed due to a lack of extra-budgetary resources. For the same reason, plans to develop a web-based repository of information on identity-related crime, as well as a comprehensive package of training tools have not advanced (see E/CN.15/2014/17, paras. 72 to 75 for more details). The ECOSOC resolutions and the reports of the meetings can be found here: