In a world where technology rules nearly everything we do, identity theft has become an increasingly serious and pervasive crime. In California, identity theft is essentially the unlawful taking of someone else’s personal information and using it for financial gain or to commit a fraud.
Elements of Identity Theft
The crime of identity theft is found in California Penal Code Section 530.5. It defines the offense as consisting of 4 types:
- The willful obtaining of someone else’s identifying information to use for an unlawful purpose and without that person’s consent.
- Obtaining or possessing another person’s identifying information without consent with the intent to commit a fraud.
- Selling or transferring to another person the identifying information of another person without that person’s consent with the intent to commit a fraud.
- Selling or transferring to another person the identifying information of another person without that person’s consent while knowing that the information will be used to commit a fraud.
Identifying information consists of a number of items:
- Driver’s license number
- Social Security number
- Bank account numbers
- Internet passwords
- Credit card numbers
- School identity number
- Employee identity number
- Tax identity number
- Birthday, address and phone numbers
- Passport information
Offenders use this information to obtain funds, credit for loans, property, services and medical information. The latter could be used by someone to unlawfully obtain government or insurance benefits.
Examples of Identity Theft and Related Offenses
- Internet fraud
This is the use of someone else’s identifying information such as a credit card number and information to make purchases online. It is also considered credit card fraud.
- False personation
California has laws prohibiting the impersonation of someone else to unlawfully obtain a benefit, usually by gaining access to their bank accounts or other financial information, or to smear that person’s reputation. It can also be charged as a federal crime.
Forgery is altering a document or writing someone else’s name on a legal document like a check.
- Insurance fraud
This also includes welfare fraud or unemployment insurance fraud since the offender is using another person’s personal information to unlawfully obtain government or private insurance benefits.
- Petty or Grand theft
If the value of the property stolen or service fraudulently obtained is $950 or under, it is a petty theft. Otherwise, you can be charged with felony or grand theft.
Degrees of the Crime
Identity theft is also a federal crime. It prohibits anyone from presenting anyone else’s identifying information, transferring a stolen document with identifying information or trafficking in equipment used to produce forged or false identification documents such as credit cards, passports or driver’s licenses. You could face up to 30 years in federal prison.
Generally, California’s identity theft offense is a “wobbler,” meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or as a felony depending on the severity of the offense and your criminal history. A misdemeanor carries up to one year in county jail and/or a fine up to $1,000. If a felony, you face from 16 months to 2 or 3 years in state prison and a fine up to $10,000.
Offenders should be aware that you can be charged with separate counts of identity theft for each fraudulent transaction.
Defenses to Identity Theft
Typical defenses to identity theft are varied depending on your circumstances:
- Lack of intent
If you possess another person’s identifying information without consent but do not use it at all or use it without fraudulent intent, you may not be violating any laws.
- Interactive computer or software provider
You cannot be charged with internet fraud or other related offense if you or your service did not engage in acquiring, transmitting or possessing personal information with the intent to commit a fraud.
Under federal immigration law, if you are an alien or permanent resident and you commit a crime of moral turpitude such as identity theft, you may have serious immigration consequences. In some cases, you could face potential deportation and not be eligible for cancellation of removal relief.
Call the Law Offices of Ramiro J. Lluis
Facing a charge of identity theft or a related offense can result in serious prison time and have long range or permanent adverse consequences on your life. If you have been charged with identity theft, call the Law Offices of Ramiro J. Lluis today for a free, confidential initial consultation at (213) 687-4412.