You’ve surely seen all the news reporting by now about the massive hack of Equifax that stole identity data of nearly half of all people in the U.S. Criminals got away with particularly sensitive identifying information – names, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and some driver’s license numbers. That kind of information allows someone to pose as you to banks, auto dealers, credit card companies, the IRS, hospitals, government agencies, and insurance companies.
The data breach became public last week, but it was detected sometime in early July, giving criminals a pretty big head start on selling and using the stolen information to take out loans, open credit card accounts, buy property, or get a passport – all in your name.
Cyberfraud professionals in the know tell us the stolen information has already been made available to those willing to buy these records for fraudulent use.
The government is taking this breach very seriously. Both the FBI and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are investigating, and Congress has announced hearings in the House.
Anyone taking, transferring or using this information is committing the crime of identity theft.
Identity theft is a serious crime. It includes not just using someone’s identity in various forms, but can run the gamut of being in possession of such information, use of it, to trafficking the information.
What is Criminal Identity Theft?
California’s Penal Code 530.5 PC defines identity theft as willfully obtaining personally identifying information belonging to another person and using it without that person’s permission for an unlawful purpose.
Personally identifying information includes name, address, social security numbers, driver’s license number, date of birth, or passwords.
Typical identity theft unlawful purposes include such activities as getting loans and credit cards, buying real estate or other goods and services, getting medical care, filing insurance claims, or taking money from bank accounts or other sources. Or, you can be charged with identity theft if you are in possession of others’ identifying information if there is an unlawful intent.
The statue also makes it illegal to:
- acquire, collect, or possess personal information with the intent to defraud.
- sell, transfer, or provide personal information of another person with the intent to commit fraud, or knowing the information will be used to commit fraud.
If you use another person’s identity multiple times, each time is a separate violation of the law, and you can be charged with a crime for each use. In addition, you can be charged with other related state or federal laws.
Many of the activities associated with identity theft also potentially violate other California laws, such as credit card fraud, Internet fraud, forgery, false personation, elder abuse laws, or insurance fraud laws.
Federal Identity Theft Law
Federal identity theft law is more comprehensive than California state law. The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act makes identity theft a federal crime. It also allows the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to investigate and file criminal charges for identity theft.
Under federal law identity theft includes:
- presenting someone else’s identification document, or a false identification document
- possessing five or more identification documents belonging to someone else
- transferring an identification document or false document knowing it was stolen
- knowingly possessing, transferring or producing false identification documents
- owning, transferring, or making a device or software that can be used to make false documents
Penalties for Identity Theft
Under California law, identity theft is a “wobbler” offense, meaning prosecutors can charge the offense as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
If you are convicted of an identity theft misdemeanor it may mean up to 1 year in jail and / or a fine up to $1000 for each offense.
If you are convicted of a felony it may mean up to three years in jail and a fine up to $10,000.
Under Federal law, the penalties for:
- acquiring more than $1000 in goods or services
- for the production or transfer of documents or counterfeit documents,
- or the possession of equipment to produce such documents
are up to 15 years in prison and substantial fines.
If the identity theft is related to drug trafficking, the commission of a violent crime, or if it is a repeat offense, prison sentences can increase to 20 years,
If the identity theft is a means to commit an act of terrorism, it can mean a prison term up to 30 years.
A conviction may result in additional penalties if identity theft also involves a related crime such as bank fraud, healthcare fraud, firearms violations, drug trafficking or other federal crime.
In addition, a conviction on your record can prevent you from getting professional licensing, may trigger an immigration enforcement, or prevent you from getting a job.
If you have been accused of identity theft or other types of fraud, it is important to defend yourself to mitigate the consequences. We can help. David A. Stein is available for a no-cost consultation on your case. He is an experienced criminal defense attorney. Contact our law offices at 949-445-0040 today or email us confidentially online here.