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The Crime of Identity Theft

Identity theft involves using someone else's personal identifying information to commit a crime. Identity theft is very common, with so much personal information online, on store receipts, and in medical records. Someone may offer up a credit card number as an easy way to get something for free since the credit card company will cover the losses. However, the police take identity theft very seriously and can impose harsh penalties.

Even if you did nothing wrong, the police may make it seem like you have no choice but to plead guilty. Instead of admitting to a crime you did not commit, make sure you talk to an experienced, local criminal defense attorney who understands your situation.

What Is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is a broad term that refers to using someone's personal data to commit theft or fraud. Most identity theft is financially motivated, to use another person's financial accounts or credit to get money, services, or goods. However, someone's identifying information can also be used to evade criminal arrest, avoid creditors, or work without legal status.

The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act is a federal law that created the criminal offense of identity theft. This involves knowingly transferring or using, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit unlawful activity. Most states also have identity theft statutes.

Some of the most common types of identity theft include:

  • Stealing mail to activate and use someone's credit card
  • Using spam email or phishing to get access to someone's bank account information
  • Using a Social Security Number to make a fraudulent loan application
  • Cloning a credit card with the data of another cardholder
  • Getting medication with someone else's prescription
  • False threats of arrest or cutting off benefits unless a fine is paid
  • Collecting someone's IRS tax refund

Personal Identifying Information for ID Theft

Identifying information includes any information or documents that can be used to confirm identity or access accounts. Personal identifying information that can be used in identity theft includes:

  • Name
  • Birthdate
  • Bank account
  • Driver's license
  • Credit card or debit card
  • Health insurance
  • Passwords
  • Electronic ID
  • Passport
  • Work ID
  • Social security number
  • Personal identification number (PIN)

Online Identity Theft and Cybercrime

There is a lot of identifying data available for purchase online. This information can be gathered through security breaches or online scams. It can also be easier to use the internet to commit computer crimes because online purchases, credit card applications, and load approvals can be completed online without in-person interaction. The open nature of the internet can also make it difficult to track down and prosecute ID thieves because they may be operating in another country or multiple locations.

Is Using a Fake ID Identity Theft?

College students and people under 21-years-old may try and use a fake driver's license to get into a bar, buy alcohol, or buy marijuana. The use of a fake ID is still a violation but it should not result in felony identity theft charges. The prosecutor may make it seem like using a fake ID to get into a club is serious identity theft, as a way to get a guilty plea. If you never intended to use a fake ID to steal something, make sure you understand your rights before pleading guilty to any crime.

Penalties for Identity Theft

Identity theft may be charged as a felony. Federal identity theft carries a maximum penalty of 15 years imprisonment, a fine, and forfeiture of property. A conviction may also require the defendant to repay any money or property taken as restitution.

In addition to federal criminal charges, someone arrested for identity theft may face multiple state and federal criminal charges, depending on the extent of the fraud. Related criminal charges may include:

As a felony, there are additional consequences that follow the defendant even after serving a prison sentence. A felon may be limited in housing options, job opportunities, gun ownership, and holding public office.

Criminal Defense for Identity Theft Charges

Innocent people can be accused of identity theft and may find it difficult to prove they had nothing to do with the alleged fraud. There are many possible legal defenses to allegations of ID theft, including:

  • Multiple people had access to the phone, computer, or address used in the theft
  • The personal information was used with permission from the owner
  • The police conducted an illegal search or seizure of the property to gain evidence

There is a lot at stake for someone arrested for identity theft. If you are facing criminal identity theft charges, talk to an experienced lawyer who will fight for your rights.