Federal identity theft and fraud are serious charges, and a conviction can result in hefty fines and imprisonment. The crimes collectively refer to the act of wrongfully obtaining another individual’s personal data and using it. Often, the criminal uses the individual’s identity for personal financial gain in some way. If you are the subject of an identity theft investigation or if charges have already been filed against you, now is the time to find a federal criminal defense attorney with experience in this niche area of the law.
Understanding Identity Theft
In 1998, the passage of the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act criminalized identity theft and fraud at the federal level. In many instances, the perpetrator obtains information like a victim’s birth date, account numbers, name, address, Social Security number and other sensitive data through various means online. Identity theft was an issue before the widespread use of the internet as well. A perpetrator can gain sensitive information about another person by accessing garbage that has been thrown out. These are only some of the more common methods that an identity thief may use to wrongfully obtain data about another person.
A federal conviction of identity theft involves the use of that data as well. Often, a thief will utilize that personal data about another person to open a credit card in the other person’s name. It may be months or years before the victim realizes what has happened. During that time, the thief may have used the bogus credit card to rack up thousands of dollars or more in credit card charges. Because the victim may be financially responsible for those charges and may have his or her credit tarnished because of missed credit card payments, this is a serious crime that can wreak havoc on a victim’s life. Keep in mind that this is only one of many examples of how identity theft works.
Following the terrorist attacks that took place on September 11, 2001, the federal government passed the Theft Penalty Enhancement Act of 2004. This act defines aggravated identity theft. Under the act, an individual may face harsher penalties if the identity theft was to support terrorist acts in some way.
Penalties for Federal Identity Theft
Several law enforcement agencies are responsible for investigating identity theft. These include the FBI, the Federal Trade Commission, the Postal Inspection Service and the Secret Service. If an individual is convicted of federal identity theft, he or she may face up to 15 years in prison and may be responsible for fines.
There are instances when the punishment could be harsher. For example, for aggravated identity theft, a conviction can result in up to five additional years in person if the identity theft act is related to terrorism. If the identity theft occurred in tandem with a drug crime or a violent crime, the penalty may also be more severe. In addition, a prior conviction can result in a heftier sentence. When determining a sentence for a federal identity theft conviction, matters like the number of victims, the extent of the convicted felon’s criminal actions and the extent of the damage incurred by the victims may all be taken into account.
Defense Strategies for Federal Identity Theft
An experienced defense attorney may use one or a combination of defense strategies in an identity theft case. The attorney could argue that the defendant has been falsely accused because the act was unintentional. An example of this would be to argue that the defendant opened mail that arrived in his or her mailbox by mistake. Another defense strategy involves consent. For an identity theft conviction, the defendant must have obtained sensitive information wrongfully. Because of this, the defense attorney may claim that the victim provided consent. Both the lack of intent and the lack of fraudulent intent may also be used as defenses against identity theft charges. For both of these defenses, the attorney would argue that the defendant did not act with the purpose of using the data for an unlawful purpose.
Request a Legal Consultation
Even when the prosecutor’s case against the defendant is solid, a skilled defense attorney may be able to use effective defense strategies for the defendant’s benefit. The defense of a federal identity theft charge requires time to build, so it is in your best interest to seek legal counsel as soon as possible. Contact the law office today to request a legal consultation.
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