What Legally Constitutes Identity Theft?


You can be charged with identity theft if you use or possess the personal data of someone else without their explicit consent. Identify theft is a criminal offense, and the courts are especially hard on those who target vulnerable people. If you have been charged with identity theft, a Rancho Cucamonga criminal defense attorney can protect your rights in a court of law.

According to the FBI, internet crime has increased significantly over the last eight months. Phishing scams, online extortion, employment fraud, and identity theft are all on the rise.

How Do We Define Identify Theft?

This crime is defined as stealing another individual's personal information and using it for your own profit. Identity thieves use social security numbers, birth dates, credit card numbers, passwords, bank account numbers, state ID card numbers, and other information to perpetrate a deception while defrauding someone else.

Examples of Identity Theft

Personal information can be used to get health care in someone else’s name, secure a car loan, or apply for credit cards. An accomplished identity thief could obtain a personal loan or set up a wireless device plan on your tab.

Thieves can send threatening bogus emails that appear to be from the IRS or the Department of Justice. These communications typically have a sense of urgency and are intended to trick you into giving up your personal information.

An identity thief can earn wages and report those earnings to the IRS using a stolen social security number. Meanwhile, the victim will be responsible for paying taxes on the money.

A thief who is arrested or stopped on the road might give a victim's personal information to a police officer.

Is Identity Theft a Serious Crime?

An infamous case that led to the passage of identity theft laws involved a convicted felon. Using another person's personal information, this notorious criminal incurred over $100,000 in credit card debt. He then got a substantial loan and went on a spending spree buying houses, motorcycles, and handguns. The criminal called the victim to taunt him and made no restitution. Instead, he was briefly jailed after making a false statement in order to obtain a firearm.

In 1998, identity theft was declared a federal crime. This crime occurs when someone "knowingly transfers or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of Federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable State or local law."

In 2004, the Theft Penalty Enhancement Act allowed for more severe penalties for "aggravated" cases of identity theft. The courts could impose additional two-year sentences for general offenses and five-year sentences for offenses related to terrorism.

If you have been charged with identity theft, a Rancho Cucamonga criminal defense lawyer can ensure that your rights will be protected in court.

What Is Fraudulent Intent?

Fraudulent intent can be construed as the possession of another person's personal information with the intention of using it later. If you steal someone's credit card information, you have already committed a crime, even if you haven't yet used the card for nefarious purposes.

In other words, the action of identity theft as well as the intention could get you up to five years in jail. It’s important to have a Rancho Cucamonga criminal defense lawyer protecting your rights during the criminal justice process.

What Are the Penalties for Identity Theft?

Punishments for identity theft vary by state. Federal laws carry their own penalties. Here’s what can happen:

  • A misdemeanor identity theft conviction can get you a year or more in jail. A felony conviction can get you several years or more. Generally speaking, the higher the value of the theft, the longer the jail time will be.

  • Misdemeanor fines can exceed $1,000. Felony fines can exceed $5,000.

  • If an identity theft victim is harmed financially or loses money as a result of the theft, the perpetrator may be ordered to pay restitution to the victim.

  • States can require criminals to compensate identity theft victims for the trouble they caused even if the victim suffered no direct financial loss. Credit reports can take months to straighten out, and the victim's financial standing and purchasing power can be severely damaged in the meantime.

  • The courts may impose a probation sentence for first-time offenders who have not caused significant harm. This sentence might be in addition to or separate from other penalties. Probation can be as long as three years. With a probation sentence, offenders must report regularly to a probation officer, pay all fines, make restitution, and stay out of trouble.

An identity thief who targets a vulnerable person, especially if that thief is in a caretaker position, may receive higher penalties in some states. The penalties may be greater still if the target was a child, a deceased person, or if multiple targets were involved.

If you've been charged with identity theft, a Rancho Cucamonga criminal defense attorney from Newman & Allen can help. Call us for a free consultation to discuss your case.