Identity Theft Crimes

Identity theft happens when a person steals someone else's personal information and uses it to acquire loans, credit cards, automobiles and other items. The thief may even use the victim's identity to secure employment or avoid criminal charges. The information that perpetrators seek includes Social Security numbers, addresses, phone numbers, names, bank account information and credit card information. Over the past decades and with the growth of the Internet, identity theft has become an increasingly visible problem. Law enforcement, prosecutors and legislators have focused numerous resources on combating identity theft. If you have been involved with identity theft, contact an attorney who is familiar with the law of identity theft and the Internet.

How Does Identity Theft Happen?

We give out personal information in transactions nearly every day. Making a purchase online, for instance, and doing online banking involve the use of financial information. Filing taxes and applying for a job involve a Social Security number, and even using a credit card at a restaurant takes control out of our hands for a time.

Although identity theft can begin with finding a bank statement in a trash can, the Internet has become a valuable resource for those who seek personal information on others. Some Web sites, like retail businesses or financial institutions, may not use proper security to protect client information. Other sites, no matter how up-to-date their software, may be vulnerable to attacks by hackers in search of personal information.

The Consequences of Identity Theft

Whether the thief uses the victim's personal information to apply for and max out credit cards or to get a car loan that will never be paid off, the victim is left to deal with the consequences of the theft. The victim must spend countless hours closing accounts, writing letters and restoring his or her good name.

Federal law makes identity theft a felony. The maximum punishment is imprisonment for up to fifteen years, plus forfeiture of all of the assets obtained as a result of the theft. A fine also may be imposed. Identity theft may also be prosecuted under other federal laws, such as the laws against Social Security fraud and credit card fraud.

Most states have enacted criminal laws against identity theft. Some states have also enacted laws that provide for a civil suit by the victim against the thief. In the states that do not have a specific law against identity theft, the crime may be prosecuted under other laws, such as laws against fraud and theft of personal property.

Some victims of identity theft have taken legal action against the retailers and financial institutions that left their information vulnerable to thieves. If an identity theft victim is sued for nonpayment of a debt that was run up by the thief, the victim may involve the identity thief in the lawsuit in order to show who really incurred the debt.

Defenses to a Charge of Identity Theft

If you have been accused of identity theft, you may have certain defenses available. The law may not cover the actions you allegedly took, or the victim in question may have allowed you to use the identity. You may be the victim of mistaken identity. The defense that you and your attorney choose to use will depend on the facts of your case. An experienced attorney can strategize with you on the best approach to your legal situation.

Contact an Attorney

As the public's awareness of identity theft grows, authorities are increasingly aggressive in pursuing identity theft charges. Contact an experienced lawyer to learn about the legal options that are available to you.

DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.