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CNN Classroom Edition: Identity Theft - How to Rob a Bank

  • Story Highlights
  • Identify different methods criminals use to steal identities
  • Determine the consequences of identity theft for both victims and criminals
  • Examine ways that consumers can minimize their risk of identity theft
  • Explore the burden of protecting consumer privacy
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(CNN Student News) -- Record the CNN Special Investigations Unit Classroom Edition: Identity Theft: How to Rob a Bank when it airs commercial-free on Monday, November 17, 2008 from 4:00-- 5:00 a.m. ET on CNN. (A short feature begins at 4:00 a.m. and precedes the program.)

Program Overview

If Bonnie and Clyde were alive today, they would not be using guns for their heists. Instead, they would probably use stolen identities -- the modern method for looting bank accounts, laundering checks and defrauding credit card companies. Drawing on documents from criminal cases, surveillance tapes and immigration records, as well as interviews with law enforcement agents, victims and criminals, CNN Special Investigations Unit goes inside the murky world of identity theft to expose what the bandits do after stealing identities.

Teachers: Please preview this program, as its content may not be appropriate for all students.

Grade Levels: 11-12, College

Subject Areas: Business, Economics, Finance, Life skills


The CNN Special Investigations Unit Classroom Edition: Identity Theft: How to Rob a Bank and its corresponding discussion questions and activity challenge students to:

  1. Identify different methods criminals use to steal identities;
  2. Determine the consequences of identity theft for both victims and criminals;
  3. Examine ways that consumers can minimize their risk of identity theft;
  4. Formulate opinions on who should bear the burden of protecting consumer privacy, and how this can be done.

Curriculum Connections

Economics America National Standards

Standard 10 : Role of Economic Institutions

Students will understand that: Institutions evolve in market economies to help individuals and groups accomplish their goals. Banks, labor unions, corporations, legal systems, and not-for-profit organizations are examples of important institutions. A different kind of institution, clearly defined and enforced property rights, is essential to a market economy.

Standard 16 : Role of Government

Students will understand that: There is an economic role for government in a market economy whenever the benefits of a government policy outweigh its costs. Governments often provide for national defense, address environmental concerns, define and protect property rights, and attempt to make markets more competitive. Most government policies also redistribute income.

Don't Miss

The Economics America National Standards ( are published by the National Council on Economic Education (

Discussion Questions

1. What is identity theft? On average, how much time does a victim of identity theft spend straightening out the problems it causes?

2. What happened to Dr. Mike Janney's $90,000 line of credit? Who stole his private information that provided access to that account? What kind of information do the "bad guys" want when they steal a person's identity?

3. How did the perpetrators use mail fraud to further their scam? Why did they need the help of two professional football players? What sentences were imposed on the leaders of this scam? Do you think that these sentences were just? Why or why not?

4. How do unopened credit card applications translate into a treasure trove for identity thieves? How can even those with bad credit fall victim to identity theft?

5. What is "phishing"? Why did the identity thieves in the phishing segment of the video target AOL users? How did the thieves receive the goods they paid for with stolen charge accounts? What eventually tipped off the authorities to this scam?

6. What is a notary public? Why do governments, businesses and individuals often require that documents be notarized? What does one have to do in order to get a notary public stamp in the state of Texas? Do you think that this system prevents or promotes fraud? Explain.

7. According to an FBI official who testified on Capitol Hill in 1998, what percentage of Houston's counterfeit checks could be traced back to Nigerian criminal enterprises? How do Houston's Nigerian leaders respond to this and similar charges? How do some explain Houston's Nigerian criminal activity as a reflection of the political climate in Nigeria?

8. Why and how do some Nigerians who are deported after committing crimes in the U.S. sneak back into the country? What, if anything, do you think should be done to rectify this situation?

9. When it comes to your personal and financial information, who bears the burden of protecting it? Do you think that this is reasonable? Explain. Do you think that banks and other businesses should have the right to share information about you? Why or why not?

10. Throughout this program, we hear statements and questions about identity theft being a "victimless crime." What does that phrase mean? Do you think that identity theft is "victimless"? State your rationale.

11. How would you explain the following statement from the program to someone who has just become aware of identity theft: "Identity theft is now the most common way to rob a bank"?

Suggested Activities

1. Students have probably heard the expression, "One man's trash is another man's treasure." In this program, we learn that when it comes to identity thieves, that statement takes on a whole new meaning. Challenge students (with parents' approval, if applicable) to check their mail daily for one week and make a stack of the mail they (or their parents) consider to be "junk." At the end of the week, have students examine each piece of unsolicited mail and determine where each piece came from, what personal information, if any, could be gleaned from it, and how any of it could be used to steal the recipient's identity. Have students share their general experiences in class discussion (without bringing the mail to class). Point them toward the Federal Trade Commission's Web site to learn about "opting out" of unsolicited offers of credit in the mail and other measures they can take to prevent identity theft via unsolicited mail.

2. Pose this scenario to students: After a groundswell of e-mails, calls, and news reports on identity theft, Congress and the president decide to create a Cabinet-level position to confront the issue, and appoint you Consumer Privacy Czar. What will be your plan of action? Assist students in researching current consumer privacy laws and determine possible courses of action based on what they have seen in this video and what they find in their research. Have each student develop a written plan of action that answers the question: Who should bear the burden of protecting consumer information: business, the government, or the consumer?


identity theft, line of credit, fraud, money laundering, junk mail, secured credit card, finance charge, interest, social security number, bounced check, "phishing," scam, hacker, white collar crime, money transfer, notary, conspiracy, forgery, consumer privacy, opting out

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