Criminal Law

The Crime of Identity Theft

Key Takeaways:

  • Identity theft involves using another person's personal information to commit fraud.
  • This crime can be a federal felony offense, with penalties including up to 15 years in prison.
  • A criminal defense attorney can identify legal defenses, including showing multiple people could have had access to a phone or computer.

Identity theft involves using someone else’s personal identifying information to commit a crime. Online identity fraud is becoming more common, with so much personal information online. Identity thieves may not think twice about using another person’s name or credit card number. Law enforcement agencies take identity theft very seriously and can impose harsh penalties.

Innocent people can be caught up in identity theft laws. Instead of pleading to a crime you did not commit, talk to a local identity theft defense attorney who understands your situation.

What Is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is a broad term for using someone’s personal data to commit theft or fraud. Most identity theft is financially motivated. This includes using a person’s identity to access financial accounts to get money, services, or goods. You can also use someone’s identifying information to evade arrest, avoid creditors, or work without legal status.

The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act is a federal law that created the crime of identity theft. This involves the transfer or use of identification of another person with the intent to commit unlawful activity. Most states also have identity theft statutes.

Examples 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 you pay a fine
  • Collecting someone’s IRS tax refund

Identitytheft.gov is the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) online resource for victims of identity theft. Identity theft victims can find more information about setting up a fraud alert and checking your credit report.

What Is Personal Identifying Information?

Identifying information includes any information or documents used to confirm identity or access accounts. Personal identifying information for identity theft includes:

  • Name
  • Birthdate
  • Bank account numbers
  • Driver’s license number
  • Credit card or debit card
  • Passport
  • Work ID
  • Social Security number
  • Personal identification number (PIN)

Online Identity Theft and Cybercrime

There is a lot of identifying data available online. This information is gathered through security breaches or online scams. It can be easier to commit computer crimes because transactions don’t have in-person interaction. The open nature of the internet can also make it challenging to track down and prosecute ID thieves. Thieves can be operating in another country or multiple locations.

Is Using a Fake ID Identity Theft?

College students and people under 21 may try and use a fake driver’s license to get into a bar, buy alcohol, or buy marijuana. Using a fake ID is still a violation but 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. If you never intended to use a fake ID to steal something, make sure you understand your rights before pleading guilty to any crime.

What Are the Penalties for Identity Theft?

Identity theft may be a misdemeanor or felony. Federal identity theft carries a maximum penalty of 15 years imprisonment, a fine, and restitution.

Someone arrested for identity theft may face multiple state and federal crimes, depending on the type of fraud. Related criminal charges may include:

As a felony, there are additional consequences that follow the defendant even after serving a prison sentence. A felony criminal record may limit your job opportunities and finding a place to live.

Are There Defenses for Identity Theft Charges?

Innocent people can be accused of identity theft. It can be difficult to prove you 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
  • You had the owner’s permission to use personal identifying information
  • 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, speak with an experienced identity theft defense lawyer.

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