You’ve probably heard of identity theft, but do you know what it actually entails? If you’ve ever asked the question “What is identity theft,” you should know that about 1 out of 3 adults has experienced identity theft at some point, which is more than twitch the national average. To put that another way, 14.4 million people had their identities stolen in 2019. That’s about 1 out of every 15 people. This makes identity theft one of the most pervasive crimes in the United States today.
Identity theft may not be as violent as robbing a bank or stealing someone’s car, but it is a very serious crime with severe consequences. This article will tell you about identity theft, what the consequences are if you’re caught, what you can do to avoid it, and how an identity theft lawyer can help.
What Is Identity Theft?
The United States Department of Justice defines identity theft (and identity fraud) as “terms used to refer to all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain.”
Identity theft can include a wide variety of activities that involve having personal data such as name, address, Social Security number, and more stolen and used for financial gain. This usually involves the thief pretending to be the victim and opening accounts in their name.
Identity Theft Examples
Identity theft is especially tricky because it can show up in some ways. Some examples include:
- Using someone else’s information to apply for loans or credit cards
- Spoofing their information to make withdrawals from bank accounts
- Getting into online accounts and making purchases under a victim’s name
- Obtaining any kinds of goods or services under someone else’s name without their knowledge
The key point is that if you’re using someone else’s name and information to obtain any kind of goods and services, that’s identity theft, and it’s illegal.
Is Identity Theft a Federal Crime?
What is identity theft in terms of legal severity? Is identity theft a felony? Yes, identity theft has been a felony in the United States since 1998. That’s when Congress passed the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act. This makes knowingly transferring or using another person’s identification without the proper authority a felony under United States Law.
Violating the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act can carry penalties of up to 15 years’ imprisonment, fines, and forfeiture of any personal property used or intended to commit identity theft.
Identity theft can also involve violations of other federal laws on identification fraud, credit card fraud, computer fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, or financial institution fraud. These federal violations are also felonies and can carry further sentences of up to 30 years in prison along with fines and forfeiture. That’s in addition to the original identity theft sentence.
How Do I Detect Identity Theft?
Identity thieves are getting more and more sophisticated with their attempts. Some common things to look out for are:
- Always cover your phone in public, especially if you have any personal or financial information up on the screen. It sounds simple, but think about how much information someone can find out about you if they just looked over your shoulder.
- You may receive physical mail about pre-approved credit cards or loans. If that’s the case, tear up any materials before discarding them. A personal shredder works even better. An identity thief could intercept the letter out of your garbage and fill out the application with your information and their address.
- If you ever get an email asking you to send bank information, Social Security numbers, or other sensitive information in a reply, never respond to those, even if it’s from an institution you know. Always find the customer support information from a reputable website and follow up that way. Much identity theft happens through faked emails designed to look legitimate but steal your information.
What Do I Do If I’m A Victim of Identity Theft?
Being a victim of identity theft is costly and time-consuming. If it happens to you, though, you do have some steps you can take.
- Call any credit card companies and banks and cancel cards immediately.
- Contact the major credit card monitoring companies and place a fraud alert.
- Report the identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission.
- Report to your local police department.
Getting identity theft issues resolved can take a long time. It’s always better to be vigilant and avoid identity theft than deal with it happening to you.
What Do I Do If I’m Accused of Identity Theft?
Identity theft is a serious issue in the United States and carries serious consequences for those who commit it. If you find yourself in a position where you have access to others’ personal information, get out of the situation as quickly as possible and report to the proper authorities. Contacting a lawyer for identity theft can also help you protect your rights.
How an Identity Theft Attorney Can Help
Identity theft is a crime, one that is taken seriously by the government. If allegations of identity theft are proven, defendants can face significant consequences, including decades of prison time and monetary penalties.
Lawyers who defend people charged with identity theft work to help their clients by attacking the government’s claims and providing affirmative defenses when available. If you have been charged with identity theft, your lawyer’s goal will be to help you obtain the best possible outcome, which may mean having the charges reduced or dropped entirely.
Common Defenses to Identity Theft Charges
Your identity theft lawyer will work closely with you to understand your case and will build a defense tailored to the facts and circumstances of the underlying charges. There are several possible defenses your attorney might turn to on your behalf, including the following:
- Consent: Your lawyer may argue that you used the alleged victim’s identity with their knowledge and authorization. If you can show that you acted with permission, identity theft did not occur.
- Falsely accused: Another potential defense is that you were accused of a crime you did not commit. In other words, while a crime occurred, the government charged the wrong suspect.
- Lack of intent: Intent is a required element in most cases for identity theft charges. If your attorney can rebut the government’s claims that you acted with criminal intention, you cannot be convicted of the crime of identity theft.
- Insufficient evidence: Your lawyer may also attack the government’s case on the basis that they simply do not have sufficient evidence to convict you of the crime.
- Improper search: In some cases, evidence used against defendants in identity theft cases was obtained illegally, in violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights. In these situations, your attorney may seek to have the charges dropped because the search and seizure of evidence was illegal.
Choose a Knowledgeable Criminal Defense Attorney
When facing any type of federal criminal charges, it is important to work with a skilled criminal defense attorney whose experience includes successfully defending against charges in federal courts.
When you work with a Zoukis Consulting Group legal professional, your attorney will work closely with you through every step of your case. When you interact with the prosecution, your lawyer can help you avoid accidental incrimination and will argue for the most lenient sentencing possible. If you have already been convicted, Zoukis Consulting Group may be able to help you appeal the decision.
If you find yourself facing identity theft charges, reach out to the Zoukis Consulting Group as soon as possible to schedule an initial consultation with an identity theft lawyer. We are ready to defend you.
Published Feb 15, 2022 by Christopher Zoukis, JD, MBA | Last Updated by Christopher Zoukis, JD, MBA on May 11, 2023 at 5:59 pm