What is identity theft? According to the United States Department of Justice, identity theft refers to various crimes where a person (unlawfully) uses someone else’s personal data for fraudulent or deceptive purposes. Typically, people commit identity theft for economic gain.
Fingerprints are unique to each individual and they cannot be stolen and used by someone else, but that is not the case with personal data, especially a Social Security number, driver’s license number, credit card number, or bank account information.
If any of the above pieces of information get into the wrong hands, the identity thief can commit all sorts of fraudulent crimes, such as credit card fraud, check fraud, immigration fraud, healthcare fraud, bankruptcy fraud, and much more.
Effects of identity theft, include but are not limited to:
- The victim’s bank account can be emptied
- Debts can be run up in the victim’s name
- Credit cards can be opened in the victim’s name
- Checks can be written in the victim’s name
- The victim’s credit can be ruined
- The perpetrator can receive the victim’s tax refunds
- The perpetrator can receive Social Security benefits in the victim’s name
- The perpetrator can get a mortgage or auto loan in the victim’s name
- The victim can be forced to file bankruptcy
The DOJ tells one story of a notorious identity theft case where the offender, a convicted felon, incurred over $100,000 in credit card debt in the victim’s name, but also bought homes, motorcycles, and handguns using the victim’s identity.
At the time, identity theft was not a federal crime, but after the victim and his wife spent over $15,000 to restore their credit and their good name, the defendant got no more than a slap on the wrist for his actions. So, in 1998 Congress was prompted to make identity theft a federal offense.
Today, identity theft may be criminalized under state and federal law, but it’s still a major problem for citizens, banks, and businesses. According to the State of California Department of Justice Office of the Attorney General, there were nearly 13 million identity theft victims in 2014. That comes to one victim every 2.5 seconds.
Identity Theft is a State & Federal Crime
In California, various forms of identity theft are covered in the California Penal Code. For example, under Section 530.5(a), when someone willfully obtains another’s identifying information for an unlawful purpose in an attempt to obtain real estate, goods, services without the person’s consent, the identity thief will be punished by a fine, and by up to one year in prison, or by a fine and imprisonment.
Under federal law, identity theft is criminalized under 18 U.S. Code § 1028. Under the federal statute, a person who commits identity theft can face a fine and up to 30 years in prison depending on the offense.
If you are facing state or federal identity theft charges in Oakland or any of the surrounding areas, contact the Law Office of Nabiel C. Ahmed for a free consultation!