We do just about everything online these days, so it’s no surprise that cases of federal identity theft violations are becoming more commonplace.
What exactly is “Identity theft?”
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The federal government uses the terms “Identity theft” and “identity fraud” to refer to any type of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains another person’s sensitive data in a way that involves fraud or deception, done for financial gain. This can cover anything from using a “phishing” scheme to obtain Social Security numbers to stealing a pre-filled credit card application from a neighbor’s mail.
Federal identity theft charges usually carry a maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison, but ID theft cases often include additional charges that can add to prison time.
If you suspect that you or someone you know is under investigation by the federal government of identity theft, it’s important that you speak with an attorney as soon as possible. A skilled federal defense attorney can help safeguard your rights and protect your freedom.
How the Federal Government Handles ID Theft
In 1998, Congress passed the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act, which officially made identity theft a federal crime.
The law makes it illegal to “knowingly transfer or use, 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 other words, if you break a federal law or commit a state felony that involves fraudulently using another person’s personal information, you can be investigated and charged for federal ID theft.
When an identity theft investigation is opened, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) works to coordinate federal agencies to investigate the case. That sometimes includes:
- U.S. Secret Service
- Postal Inspection Service
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
They will use their power as investigative agencies to start building a case against you. They can do interviews, issue subpoenas to obtain information and collect hard evidence. Once they determine that they have enough evidence, federal agents will arrest you and charge you with identity theft.
What are the Penalties for Federal Identity Theft?
The maximum penalty for identity theft is usually 15 years in federal prison, in addition to fines and criminal forfeiture. It can increase to 20 years when:
- The defendant has a prior conviction for federal ID theft;
- The ID theft was done to facilitate a drug trafficking crime;
- The ID theft was connected to a crime of violence; or
- The ID theft was connected to international terrorism.
If you are convicted of federal identity theft, the government will weigh several factors when determining your sentence, including:
- The number of victims
- The extent of damage incurred by the victims
- The number of different types of IDs stolen or forged
- The defendant’s conduct
As we mentioned above, federal identity theft charges are sometimes coupled with other related charges.
Related Federal ID Fraud Crimes
Depending on the facts of the case, you might be charged with related crimes to federal ID theft, such as:
Credit Card Fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1029)
Federal law allows for penalties of up to 15 years in prison for using, producing, buying, selling or trading credit card information.
Computer Fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1030)
Prohibits many forms of “computer hacking,” including a penalty of up to 10 years for conviction.
Mail Fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1341)
Fraud schemes that involve the U.S. Postal Service carry maximum penalties of up to 20 years.
Wire Fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1343)
Similarly, the federal government punishes fraud committed over wire, radio or television communication when it is done across state lines.
Bank Fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1344)
Attempting to defraud a financial institution carries penalties of up to $1,000,000 and 30 years in prison.
Identification Fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1028)
Deceptively using or trafficking in stolen forms of identification is typically punishable by up to 15 years in federal prison.
What are Defenses Against Identity Theft Charges?
If you believe that you are under federal investigation or if you have been formally charged with identity theft, working together with a skilled federal defense attorney can help you fight your charges.
Los Angeles federal defense attorney Robert M. Helfend has successfully defended hundreds of cases in more than 30 years in federal courts, and he is prepared to take your case. Call today for your free case evaluation — 800-834-6434