You may have seen a commercial or advertisement for products that can help a person protect their identity and for a good reason. According to the Federal Trade Commission, “in 2023, there were more than 1 million reports of identity theft received through the FTC’s website.”

Identity theft is a crime that has become even easier to commit thanks to technology. It is not treated lightly in the legal system. This article breaks down the definition of identity theft as well as the resulting penalties for committing the crime.

What is Identity Theft?

The article, “Is Embezzlement a Felony or Misdemeanor in California?explored the difference between embezzlement and fraud. Identity theft falls under the category of fraud. Identity theft is the intentional use and possession of a person’s identity without the person’s consent for a fraudulent purpose.

How does the law define “personal identifying information”?

PC 530.55 lists what the law considers to be personal identifying information which includes, but is not limited to:

  • Social Security Number
  • Checking Account Number and PIN
  • US Citizenship Number
  • Date of Birth
  • Voiceprint
  • Mother’s Maiden Name

What are some examples of what is considered to be identity theft?

  • Theft of a wallet and/or credit card to make a purchase for themselves.
  • Stealing a person’s driver’s license and using it to fly, drive, or get a job.
  • Accessing a person’s emails for the purpose of learning personal information.
  • Mail theft to obtain personal information.

Is identity theft a felony or misdemeanor?

In California, identity theft can be penalized either as a felony or a misdemeanor. The law dictates what type of identity theft falls under each category.

 For example:

  • If a person has the intent to obtain personal information such as medical information, the crime will be treated as a misdemeanor and the perpetrator will be sentenced to up to a year in jail.
  • If a person has the intent to obtain an individual’s real property, the crime will be treated as a misdemeanor and the perpetrator will be sentenced up to a year in jail.
  • If a person steals someone’s identity and marries someone else, whether or not they need that their spouse had done so, the perpetrator would be guilty of a felony.

Given the nature of the crime, victims of identity theft can bring a suit in civil court to try to collect restitution from the perpetrator.

Other crimes that fall under the umbrella of identity theft: 

What does the law consider to be impersonation? 

PC 528.5(b) defines impersonation as when the perpetrator is able to make another person reasonably believe that the perpetrator is the person she/he is pretending to be. 

Impersonating someone via the Internet carries a sentence of up to one year in jail and/or a $1,000.00 fine. An example of impersonating someone else over the internet is creating a social media account in someone else’s name and pretending to be that person. This is illegal.

What is aggravated identity theft?

18 U.S. Code § 1028A defines aggravated identity theft as theft, transference, and/or possession of a person’s identity to commit a felony.

One example is stealing someone’s identity to commit an act of terrorism. The penalty for this crime is up to five years in Federal prison.

What does the law say about someone who sells counterfeit identities?

A person who knowingly provides false or counterfeit documentation related to a birth or baptism with the intent to deceive has committed a crime. The penalty is up to one year in jail.

The law prescribes a stiffer penalty for someone who knowingly provides counterfeit government-issued IDs or driver’s licenses with the intent to deceive. If a person could reasonably believe that the ID is real, the provider has committed a crime.

The penalty for a first-time offense is a fine of up to $1,000.00 and/or up to a year in jail.

The penalty for a second offense is a fine of up to $5,000.00 and up to a year in jail.

I have a fake ID. Am I committing a crime?

That fake ID you had back in high school – that was illegal.

The law penalizes a person who possesses a fake ID. The crime is considered to be a misdemeanor and the penalty is between $1,000.00 to $2,500.00 and/or community service.

Let Our Bakersfield Lawyer Fight For You

White-collar crimes, such as identity theft, are essentially common law crimes that individuals have to be wary of. When facing charges for such a crime, choosing an attorney who practices white-collar crimes is essential.

Our Bakersfield white-collar crime lawyers have knowledge about the various ways fraud and other white-collar crimes happen. With their vast knowledge, they can have a solid defense for your case. Contact us today to get a fair hearing.

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