Key finding: There are an estimated 24,000 prosecutions for identity-related crimes each year in Australia, although prosecution statistics only ever measure a relatively small sub-set of the total incidents of criminal activity. Rather than specific identity crime offences, most identity criminals are prosecuted for the crimes that are enabled by using a false or stolen identity, such as fraud (i.e. obtaining benefit by deception). This may be because these offences attract higher penalties or are more appropriate to the overall circumstances of the conduct. There are a wide variety of different Commonwealth offences under which people committing identity crime offences can be prosecuted. The specific offence provision that criminals are prosecuted under is largely dictated by the nature, circumstances and target of the identity-related offences that are committed. For example, offenders who obtain financial advantage by deception (i.e. fraud), make false or misleading statements to an Australian Government agency, or forge government-issued identity documents will likely be prosecuted under the Criminal Code (Cth). Offenders, who target the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, such as by providing false documents to obtain a visa, will likely be prosecuted under the Migration Act 1958.
Offenders who commit identity-related offences against Australian Government agencies may be prosecuted by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP). For the pilot, the CDPP provided a suite of prosecution statistics relating to identity crime offences under the Criminal Code (Cth) over the last three financial years (2010–11, 2011–12 and 2012–13), and other Commonwealth offences under which offenders can be prosecuted for identity-related crime (see Figure 15 and Table 3).
Case Study 8 (February 2007): Identity fraud committed by Medicare employee
Over a five year period, the offender used her position as a Medicare Branch Manager to create 65 false identities under which 387 fraudulent claims were made, totalling $156,034. The offender was charged with 65 counts of obtaining property by deception and was sentenced to 8 years imprisonment.
Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions. 2010. 2009–10 Annual Report.
Available at: http://www.cdpp.gov.au/case-reports/marita-quetcher/ Figure 15: Total number of Commonwealth prosecutions for fraudulent conduct, by referring agency, 2010–11 to 2012–13
These figures indicate that over the last three financial years (2010–11 to 2012–13) DHS (Centrelink) has made 94 percent of all referrals for Commonwealth prosecutions (both summary and on indictment) for fraudulent conduct. It can also be seen that while the number of prosecutions referred by all other Australian Government agencies has remained relatively stable, the number of DHS prosecutions have more than halved over this period, from 3,124 in 2010–11 to 1,360 in 2012–13.
The vast majority (96%) of Commonwealth defendants prosecuted for identity-related crimes over the three years to 2012–13 are prosecuted for offences of fraudulent conduct (see Table 3). Only a small number are prosecuted for offences that may be more directly associated with identity crime, such as forgery or possessing/manufacturing false documents. Only one defendant was prosecuted for a specific identity crime offence.
This illustrates the limitations of using identity crime offence prosecutions as an indicator of identity-related crime. While not all fraud offences involve identity-related crime, research from the United Kingdom indicates that a significant proportion (more than 50%) of all fraud is enabled through the use of a false or stolen identity (CIFAS 2013). Australian data illustrates that most identity criminals are being prosecuted for the offences that are enabled using a false or stolen identity (e.g. fraudulently obtaining benefit by deception), rather than the offences of acquiring and possessing a fraudulent identity.
Table 3: Number of defendants(a) prosecuted by the CDPP, by Act and year (2010–11 to 2012–13)(b)
Division 480 Criminal Code—Financial information offences
Section 234 Migration Act 1958—False documents
Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Terrorism Financing Act 2006, sections 135-138
Section 24 Financial Transactions Report Act 1988— Opening account etc. in false name
Part XIII Customs Act 1901—Penal provisions (section 233BAB)
Part 14Trademarks Act 1995—sections 146-148
(a) A defendant may have more than one offence prosecuted under more than one Act and section, and is therefore counted more than once where this occurs. The data in this table represents 3,289, 1,854, and 1,535 unique defendants prosecuted in 2010–11, 2011–12, and 2012–13 respectively.
(b) As at 25/11/13
Source: Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions
States and territories also have specific identity crime offences, such as dealing or possessing fraudulent or stolen identification information, or manufacturing counterfeit credentials. Criminal courts data on state and territory prosecutions from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS 2014b; Criminal Courts, Australia series Cat. No. 4513.0) also suggests that, like Commonwealth offences, many state and territory identity crimes are prosecuted under other fraud related offences (see Figure 16).
Figure 16: Number of identity crime offences and frauds proven guilty in all state/territory courts, by offence category and year, 2010–11 and 2011–12
* Includes identity crimes coded under the following ANZSOC codes: 322, 829, 831, 923, 931, 932, 933, 991, 1111, 1542, 1543, 1549, 1559, 1612, 1631, and 1694.
Note: Excluded from this data is identity crimes prosecuted in the Australian Capital Territory Magistrates’ and Children’s Courts in 2010–11 and Tasmanian Higher Courts for both 2010–11 and 2011–12
Source: ABS Customised report (2014).
Quantifying the true number of identity crimes proven guilty in state and territory courts requires a count of the ‘core’ identity crime offences such as forgery and impersonation, combined with an estimation of the number of identity-related frauds. Based on the assumption that 37.5 percent (i.e. halfway between 25% and 50%) of fraud involves identity crime, ABS data shows that around 22,000 identity crimes were proven guilty in 2010–11 and 2011–12.
To provide a clear picture of the relationship between identity crime and other types of fraud, data presented in Figure 17 shows that of the 40,000 frauds proven guilty each year in state and territory courts, around 15,000 are enabled by the use of stolen or fabricated identities. In addition, there are also around 7,000 ‘core’ identity crime offences proven guilty each year, including activities such as forgery, possessing equipment to manufacture fraudulent credentials and making false representations.
Figure 17: Estimated number of identity crime and fraud offences proven guilty in state and territory courts each year
Conclusions around identity crime prosecutions
Prosecution data provided by the CDPP and ABS shows that there are thousands of identity crimes prosecuted each year, with available data showing a slightly downward trend. As with police data recording systems, most identity crime offences are recorded as frauds. This makes it very difficult to separate those frauds that are enabled using fraudulent identities and those committed through other methods.