In general, there are four categories of identity theft. First, “financial identity theft” takes place when the adverse party uses the victim’s identity to gain access to funds, goods, or services. The adverse party may use the victim’s information to open a bank account, get a debit or credit card, seek a mortgage loan, or purchase a car by obtaining a loan under the victim’s name. Second, “criminal identity theft” takes place when the adverse party acts as the victim to engage in criminal activity. Third, “identity cloning” takes place when the adverse party assumes the victim’s identity in his/her daily life. So, in other words, the adverse party will gain access to the victim’s driver’s license, birth certificate, passport, or other identifying information. Fourth, “business or commercial identity theft” takes place when the adverse party uses another commercial organization’s name to procure credit, money, goods, or services.
Identity theft usually takes place when the adverse party gains access to some type of personal information such as credit card information, social security card, or bank account number. This information can be obtained through clandestine methods such as bribing someone who works at the human resources department. This information can also be obtained by stealing mail such as preapproved credit card forms. The personal information can be obtained by gaining unauthorized access to the victim’s electronic devices – i.e., hacking. Finally, the personal information may be obtained through gaining unauthorized access to a state or federal government agency’s database.
The government prosecutes identity theft and fraud pursuant to state or federal laws. For example, Congress passed the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act which prohibits “knowingly transferring or using, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of Federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable State or local law.” See 18 U.S.C. § 1028(a)(7). This offense carries a maximum term of 15 years’ imprisonment, a fine, and criminal forfeiture of any personal property used or intended to be used to commit the offense.
In addition, identity theft or fraud schemes can involve violations of other statutes such as identification fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1028), credit card fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1029), computer fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1030), mail fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1341), wire fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1343), or financial institution fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1344). It’s important to know that each of these offenses are felonies that carry substantial penalties as high as 30 years’ imprisonment, fines, and criminal forfeiture.
The National Conference of State Legislators has an informative website on this topic. See https://www.ncsl.org/research/financial-services-and-commerce/identity-theft-state-statutes.aspx for more information. For example, in California, under Penal Code sections 530.5-530.8, every person who willfully obtains personal identifying information of another person, and uses that information for any unlawful purpose, including to obtain, or attempt to obtain, credit, goods, services, real property, or medical information without the consent of that person, is guilty of a public offense, and upon conviction shall be punished by a fine, by imprisonment in a county jail not to exceed one year, or by both a fine and imprisonment, or by imprisonment in the state prison.
The Office for Victims of Crime, which is located at 810 Seventh Street NW, Washington, DC 20531, has a good amount of information regarding identity theft and financial fraud. Please refer to https://ovc.ojp.gov/sites/g/files/xyckuh226/files/pubs/ID_theft/idtheftlaws.html for more information.
Our law firm has managed legal actions related to identity theft in state and federal courts for several years. We are ready to assist our clients in matters related to internet, cybersecurity, and technology laws. Please contact our law firm to speak with an internet attorney at your earliest convenience.