Have you been accused of identity theft? You need a defense attorney who has what it takes to defend your freedom. Call 24/7 – 800-834-6434.

The 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.

A federal identity theft conviction can carry a maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison, but identity theft cases often include additional charges that can add to prison time.

If you or someone you know has been accused of identity theft, it’s important that you speak with an attorney as soon as possible. A skilled criminal defense attorney can help safeguard your rights and protect your freedom.

What is identity theft?

Identity theft refers to the unauthorized use of someone else’s personal information, such as their name, Social Security number or credit card details, typically with the intention to commit fraudulent activities, steal money, or gain benefits in the person’s name.

This can involve creating fake accounts, making unauthorized purchases, or falsely applying for credit using the stolen information, thereby potentially causing financial loss and damaging the victim’s credit history or reputation.

Identity theft is a crime under both federal and state law.

The most common types of identity theft

The most prevalent types of identity theft include:

  1. Financial identity theft. This occurs when an individual uses another person’s personal information to open accounts, take out loans, or make purchases.
  2. Medical identity theft. This is the unauthorized use of another person’s personal information to obtain medical services or prescription drugs.
  3. Criminal identity theft. Occurs when someone uses another person’s identity to commit a crime.
  4. Child identity theft. This occurs when a child’s personal information is used to commit fraud or other illegal activities.

Employment-related fraud is another common type of identity theft, in which an individual illicitly uses someone else’s personal information to gain employment or benefits.

Identity theft laws in California – Penal Code 530.5 PC

Under California Penal Code 530.5 PC, identity theft is when the three following elements are true:

  1. The defendant willfully obtained or retained someone else’s personal information.
  2. They used the information for an unlawful purpose. This can include fraudulent use, such as using the information to deceive, or to cause a loss to the person whose information was taken.
  3. Without that person’s consent. The defendant did so without the consent of the person whose information was used, meaning the person did not give permission for their personal information to be used in such a manner.

In this context, “personal identifying information” is broadly defined and can include a person’s name, address, telephone number, passport, driver’s license number, social security number, health insurance data, employment information and more.

Penalties for identity theft in California

Identity theft is treated as a “wobbler” under California law. This means that it can be treated as a misdemeanor or felony offense, depending on the facts of the case and the defendant’s criminal history.

As a misdemeanor, identity theft is punishable by:

  • Up to 1 year in county jail, and/or
  • A fine of up to $1,000.

As a felony:

  • 16 months, 2 years or 3 years in California state prison, and/or
  • A fine of up to $10,000.

Additional penalties and consequences may also be imposed, such as restitution to the victim, probation terms and a potentially detrimental impact on the convicted individual’s future employment or housing opportunities due to having an identity theft conviction on their criminal record. Additionally, a conviction under PC 530.5 PC can also attract enhanced penalties if it is part of a larger pattern of fraud or criminal activity or if it involves substantial financial losses or a large number of victims.

Federal identity theft laws – Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act

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 identifying 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.

Penalties for a conviction under federal law

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 identity theft;
  • The identity theft was done to facilitate a drug trafficking crime;
  • The identity theft was connected to a crime of violence; or
  • The identity theft crime 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 during and after the crime
  • The defendant’s criminal history
  • The defendant’s mental health
  • The defendant’s use of drugs or alcohol
  • Whether the defendant is likely to commit more crimes.

The government will also consider any aggravating or mitigating factors when determining your sentence. Aggravating factors make it more likely that you will receive a harsher sentence, while mitigating factors make it more likely that you will receive a lighter sentence. Some examples of aggravating and mitigating factors include:

Aggravating Factors:

  • The identity theft was done for financial gain;
  • The identity theft caused emotional distress to the victim;
  • The identity theft involved sophisticated planning or multiple victims; or
  • The defendant has a prior criminal history.

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.

Defenses against identity theft charges

Defenses against identity theft charges can include lack of intent, consent from the ID owner and violations of the defendant’s rights by law enforcement. Working with a skilled identity theft defense attorney, who can thoroughly scrutinize the evidence and devise a strategy tailored to the case specifics, is instrumental in building a robust defense against an identity theft charge. The prosecutor must demonstrate evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, and a well-prepared defense can challenge the validity of the evidence and weaken the prosecutor’s case.

An experienced identity theft attorney can help with the following:

  • Navigating accompanying charges, such as mail fraud or wire fraud, that may arise in a prosecution for identity theft
  • Understanding the types of evidence relevant to an identity theft case, like documentation proving the accused’s involvement
  • Effectively countering the prosecution’s allegations
  • Safeguarding the rights of the accused

Work with a skilled identity theft defense attorney

Working with a skilled identity theft criminal defense attorney, such as Robert M. Helfend, can provide valuable legal representation and guidance throughout the process. With over 30 years of experience in defending the rights of the accused in Southern California, Helfend has:

  • Successfully defended more than 4,000 criminal cases
  • Recognized for his deep understanding of California law
  • Attention to detail
  • Skillful defenses

Helfend proactively keeps clients well-informed about their rights and options, striving for the most favorable outcome in each case. Facing state or federal charges requires the support of a knowledgeable attorney to navigate the intricate legal landscape of identity theft laws and penalties.

If you or a loved one is facing identity theft charges, don’t hesitate to contact Robert M. Helfend for a free case evaluation at 800-834-6434. With his expertise and aggressive defense strategies, Helfend can help protect your rights and fight for the best possible outcome in your case.

Published January 22, 2013. Last updated October 13, 2023.

Leave a reply