The government does not go easy in cases of suspected identity theft. With more and more business being conducted online, authorities are very sensitive about protecting consumers’ personal details.
As a federal offense, identity theft can carry penalties ranging as high as 30 years in federal prison and thousands of dollars in fines. If you or someone you know has been accused of identity theft, it’s important to speak with an experienced identity theft defense attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney can review the facts of your case, advise you on the best route forward and begin crafting your defense.
With more than 30 years experience in federal and California courtrooms, Los Angeles identity theft defense attorney Robert M. Helfend has been recognized multiple times for his skill and dedication to clients, receiving awards from SuperLawyers, the National Trial Lawyers Top 100 and Lead Counsel. Call today for your free consultation – 800-834-6434.
What is Identity Theft?
“This man is a very effective Los Angeles criminal defense attorney. I was charged but I never had to go to court because the case was thrown out thanks to his efforts. I was very worried because I didn’t know anyone who could confirm my location, but he was able to prove that I was innocent.” Jason, CA
Identity theft has only been officially listed as a federal crime since 1998, when congress passed the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act (ITADA). The ITADA made it a federal crime 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.”
Before the passing of this act, crimes that are now considered identity theft crimes were charges under what were called “false personation” statutes. In response to the rise of identity theft crimes, the ITADA strengthened the laws against fraudulent activity associated with identification documents or assuming another person’s identity and increased the criminal penalties for those convicted of identity theft.
Additionally, the ITADA closed a significant legal loophole; whereas it was previously only criminal violation to use another person’s information unlawfully, it is now illegal to unlawfully obtain another person’s information whether or not it is used for financial gain or to commit further criminal activity.
Identity theft typically involves the stealing of:
- Information on a birth or death certificate
- Bank account information
- Credit card information
- School I.D. or employee I.D. information
- Driver’s license or passport information
- Tax I.D. or social security number,
- The name, date of birth, address or telephone number of an individual.
Some of the most common methods that identity thieves use to obtain such information include:
- Hacking computers or using malware to obtain data from computers
- Accessing business receipts, credit card readers, or RIFD readers in order to obtain credit card information; also known as “skimming”
- Stealing wallets or purses
- Dumpster diving for discarded records, mail, or receipts
- Sending fraudulent emails or “spam” emails to people in order to get them to provide their personal information; also known as “phishing”
- Telephone scams
- Stealing mail
- Eavesdropping in public
Some specific examples of these methods of identity theft include:
- Using someone else’s name to collect welfare
- Forging a signature on a check
- Using someone else’s name / birth date in order to carry out a criminal offense incognito
- Applying for a mortgage or loan with another person’s information
- Using someone else’s credit cards to purchase things online or in stores.
If you face federal identity theft charges, you could face up to 15 years in federal prison and have to pay extremely hefty fines. Additionally, the 2004 Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act (ITPEA) established additional penalties for “aggravated” identity theft. According to the ITPEA, you are guilty of “aggravated” identity theft if you use another person’s identity to commit felony crimes including theft of Social Security benefits, immigration violations, or acts of domestic terrorism. If you are convicted of “aggravated” identity theft, an additional two to five years may be added to your prison sentence.
As a result of certain changes in recent years like technology and the storing of information online, identity theft and fraud have become increasingly complex. In order to address these growing complexities, a number of federal laws have been enacted. These laws include:
- The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 which requires creditors and financial institutions to comply with certain rules and standards in order to maintain the accuracy and privacy of credit reports
- The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act which makes it illegal for debt collectors to use deceptive means to collect on overdue bills
- The Identity Theft Enforcement and Restitution Act of 2008 which ensures that identity theft restitution orders may include an amount equal to the time that the victim spent remediating any harm caused by the identity theft. This law also allows federal courts to prosecute the crime regardless of whether or not the criminal and victim live in the same state, whereas, prior to this law, federal courts could only prosecute if the criminal and victim lived in different states.
Federal Identity Theft Defense
As a criminal defense attorney, I represent clients accused of identity theft in relation to credit card fraud, mail fraud, theft of Social Security numbers, and bank fraud. I counsel and defend clients nationwide currently under federal investigation or who have been arrested for committing a number of identity theft crimes including the following:
- Using stolen credit cards
- Using stolen passwords or PIN numbers at banks
- Mail fraud
- Money laundering
- Stealing Social Security numbers
- Using a stolen Social Security number
- Reporting fraudulent information on loan or credit card applications
When the prosecution’s evidence is inconsistent, I conduct my own investigation into the charges against my client. If you hire me to represent you against your identity theft charges I may consult with computer experts, forensic accountants, handwriting experts, and any other other necessary investigative professionals to challenge the evidence against you.
I will accompany you to any pretrial hearings, negotiations, or police interviews to ensure your rights and interests are protected. If there is very little question concerning your guilt, I work with prosecutors in reaching a plea bargain that reduces the charges or sentence against you. Depending on your criminal history and the circumstances surrounding your arrest, the prosecution may be willing to agree to a reduced sentence in exchange for a guilty plea or testimony against others involved in the crimes.
Fight Your Identity Theft Allegations!
The most important thing you can do to successfully minimize the negative consequences of your identity theft charges is to get the help of a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. There is no need to wait to retain legal council, even in the early stages of your case an attorney can serve as your spokesperson and work to defend your rights. Throughout every stage of your case, your attorney will discuss the options available to you and act according to your wishes.
Depending on the details of your case, there are a number of defense strategies that may be used. You may be able to have your identity theft charges dropped if:
- You didn’t obtain use a person’s information unlawfully – If you did not obtain or use someone else’s personal information unlawfully, you are not guilty of identity theft.
- You didn’t have an illegal intention – the prosecution must be able to prove that you intentionally obtained another person’s information unlawfully with the intent to aid activity that violates a federal or state law. If you can prove that you did not have any illegal intention, you cannot be convicted of identity theft.
- You have been falsely accused.
- The evidence against you is insufficient – As your attorney, I highlight the lack of hard evidence supporting such a claim. When video footage exists purporting to show my client purchasing merchandise with a stolen credit card, I challenge the quality of the images and conclusions drawn by the prosecution.
If you have been arrested for identity theft, time is of the essence in ensuring the best possible outcome for your case. Call today – 800-834-6434.