Identity theft can be a range of actions and consequences, but it always leads back to one individual using the personal information of another without permission. The common example of a few charges on someone else’s bank or credit card is only a mild version of identity theft. In more extreme cases, a person steals another individual’s identity so fully that they take out mortgages and auto loans in that person’s name.
Identity theft is a serious crime, no matter how minor of a benefit was obtained by the offender. Anyone charged with stealing another individual’s personal information for their own use should contact a San Diego identity theft lawyer. An experienced California criminal defense lawyer can help an individual face the charges head on and with a vigorous defense.
What is Identity Theft?
In general, identity theft is when someone uses another person’s information to illegally buy goods or services or obtain some other benefit.
Under California Penal Code §530.5, the crime is defined as anyone who willfully obtains personally identifying information of another person and uses it for an unlawful purpose. An unlawful purpose includes but is not limited to obtaining credit, buying goods and services, purchasing real estate, or obtaining medical information. This statute includes anyone who obtains and then sells personally identifying information.
Identity theft can also occur to those who are deceased. People may steal the deceased person’s information and continue to use it thinking no one will notice.
Criminal Identity Theft
All identity theft under California law is a crime, however, there is a specific type of theft referred to as criminal identity theft. In this situation, a person uses another individual’s identity when cited or arrested for a crime, creating a criminal record for that individual.
The victim of the crime can find out there are outstanding tickets or arrest warrants in his or her name, leading to issues with law enforcement. The person must prove the identity theft to the law enforcement agency to be cleared or go to court to prove his or her innocence.
Penalties upon Conviction
If you’re charged with misdemeanor identity theft, you can be sentenced to one year in jail and a fine up to $1,000. If you’re charged with felony identity theft, you can punished with up to three years in jail and $10,000 in fines.
If the victims of identity theft suffered a financial loss, the defendant may be ordered to pay restitution.
Federal Prosecution of Identity Theft
Stealing another person’s information for your own benefit isn’t only a crime in California. It’s also punishable at the federal level under U.S. Code Title 18 §1028. This law expands what it means to participate in identity theft, including but not limited to knowingly making or transferring equipment that can be used to make false identification documents.
A federal conviction carries with it much harsher consequences. An individual found guilty of identity theft can be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison and a fine up to $250,000.
If the identity theft is related to a violent crime, drug trafficking, or the defendant has a previous identity theft conviction, the consequence can be up to 20 years in prison. If the crime is related to international or domestic terrorism, the penalty is up to 30 years in prison.
Defenses to Identify Theft Accusations
There are a number of strong defenses to charges of identity theft. Your attorney can show you didn’t have criminal intent, meaning you didn’t obtain someone’s personal information in order to commit any crime. Another defense your attorney may use is that you didn’t use any personal information you obtained for any unlawful purpose. Merely having someone’s information isn’t enough for a conviction, it must be used to benefit the defendant in some way.
Contact a San Diego Identity Theft Lawyer
A conviction of identity theft gives you a permanent criminal record – one that follows you through every phase of your life. Going to college, applying for graduate programs or internships, applying to jobs, and asking for loans. Even if you feel your situation was minor and your conviction came with a light sentence, the consequences to having a criminal record can be staggering.
To fight a charge of identity theft, you should have a skilled attorney on your side, who will learn the facts of your case and tenaciously protect your rights in court. You need someone like Jessica McElfresh, who will work to reduce your charges, prove your innocence, or reduce the penalties of conviction.