The Legal Consequences of Identity Theft
Identity theft is a serious and widespread problem that affects millions of Americans every year. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), identity theft was the most reported consumer complaint in 2020, with over 1.4 million reports filed by victims. Identity theft can have devastating consequences for your personal and financial life, such as damaging your credit score, draining your bank account, ruining your reputation, and even landing you in legal trouble.
In this article, we will explain the legal aspects of identity theft, such as the definition, types, penalties, and remedies of the crime. We will also provide some tips on how to detect and report identity theft, and how to prevent it in the first place. By the end of this article, you will know the identity theft penalties you may face if you are a victim or a perpetrator of this crime.
What Are the Types of Identity Theft and How Do They Impact You
Identity theft can have different impacts on you, depending on the type of information and the purpose of the theft. Some of the common types and impacts of identity theft are:
New account fraud
This occurs when someone opens new credit accounts or loans in your name using your SSN and other personal information. This can damage your credit score and history, and make you liable for the debts incurred by the thief.
Unauthorized account use
This occurs when someone uses your existing credit cards or bank accounts to make purchases or withdrawals without your permission. This can drain your funds, affect your credit score and history, and make you liable for any fees or charges.
Criminal identity theft
This occurs when someone uses your name and other personal information to commit a crime or avoid legal consequences. This can result in arrest warrants, criminal records, fines, or jail time in your name.
This occurs when someone uses your SSN and other personal information to file false tax returns or claim government benefits to which you are not entitled. This can result in tax liabilities, penalties, audits, or loss of benefits in your name.
Employment or tax fraud
This occurs when someone uses your SSN and other personal information to get a job or file taxes you did not do. This can result in income reporting errors, tax liabilities, penalties, audits, or loss of benefits in your name.
This occurs when someone uses your health insurance or medical records to get medical care or prescriptions you did not receive. This can result in medical bills, collection calls, denied claims, inaccurate medical records, or health risks in your name.
Food For THought
What Are the Federal Laws and Penalties for Identity Theft?
Identity theft is a federal crime that is prosecuted by the Department of Justice under various statutes2. The main federal law that criminalizes identity theft is the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act, which prohibits knowingly using another person’s identity to commit any unlawful activity that violates federal law or state felony law3. This offense carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison, a fine, and criminal forfeiture of any property used or intended to be used to commit the crime3.
Other federal laws that may apply to identity theft include the following:
This prohibits knowingly producing, transferring, possessing, or using a false identification document with the intent to defraud. This offense carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a fine.
This prohibits knowingly using a counterfeit access device (such as a credit card) with intent to defraud. This offense carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine.
This prohibits knowingly accessing a protected computer without authorization or exceeding authorized access, and obtaining anything of value or causing damage. This offense carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine.
This prohibits knowingly devising or executing a scheme to defraud using the mail or any private or commercial interstate carrier. This offense carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine.
This prohibits knowingly devising or executing a scheme to defraud using wire, radio, or television communication in interstate or foreign commerce. This offense carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine.
This prohibits knowingly executing or attempting to execute a scheme to defraud a financial institution or obtain money, funds, credits, assets, securities, or other property owned by or under the custody or control of a financial institution using false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises. This offense carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a fine.
What Are the State Laws and Penalties for Identity Theft?
All states have their own laws that criminalize identity theft, and they may vary in their definitions, types, penalties, and remedies for the crime. Some states treat identity theft laws like other theft laws and impose increasing penalties based on the monetary loss suffered by the victim. For instance, the defendant might be convicted of a misdemeanor if the losses were under $500 and face increasing felony penalties for losses above $500.
Other states have specific identity theft statutes that classify the crime as a felony regardless of the amount involved. For example, in California, identity theft is punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Some examples of how state laws and penalties for identity theft differ across the country are:
In Arizona, identity theft is punishable by up to 12.5 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000 if the victim is 65 years or older.
What Are the Civil Remedies and Rights for Identity Theft Victims?
In addition to criminal prosecution, identity theft victims may also seek civil remedies and rights to recover from the damage caused by the crime. Civil remedies may include suing the identity thief or the companies that allowed or facilitated the identity theft for compensation for any losses or expenses incurred as a result of the crime. For example, victims may sue for:
These are the direct losses that resulted from the identity theft, such as money stolen, fees paid, interest charges incurred, etc.
These additional damages are intended to punish the wrongdoer and deter future misconduct.
These are damages that are set by law for certain types of violations, such as violations of consumer protection laws.
These are the costs of hiring an attorney to represent you in your civil case.
This is an order from the court that requires the wrongdoer to stop or prevent further harm.
Civil rights may include obtaining an identity theft report from the FTC; placing a fraud alert or a credit freeze on your credit reports; disputing any fraudulent accounts or charges on your credit reports; requesting copies of any documents used by the identity thief; or applying for a new Social Security number. These rights can help you restore your identity and credit, as well as protect you from future fraud.
How to Detect and Report Identity Theft?
Identity theft can be hard to detect until it is too late. Therefore, it is important to be vigilant and watchful for any signs that indicate your identity may have been stolen. Some of the warning signs are:
Being denied credit or benefits because of your credit history or SSN.
If you suspect or confirm your identity has been stolen, you should take the following steps:
File a report with the FTC and get an identity theft report. You can file a report online at [IdentityTheft.gov] or by phone at 1-877-ID-THEFT (1-877-438-4338). The FTC will provide you with an identity theft report, which is a document that proves your identity has been stolen and helps you recover from the identity theft. You should print or save a copy of the report and keep it in a safe place.
File a police report and request a copy of it. You should go to your local police station and report your identity has been stolen. You need to bring your identity theft report from the FTC and any other documents that prove your identity and the fraud, such as your driver’s license, passport, Social Security card, bills, statements, or letters. The police report will help you with the recovery process.
Contact the three credit bureaus, TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian and request a fraud alert or a credit freeze. A fraud alert will notify you if someone tries to use your credit information, while a credit freeze will prevent anyone from opening new credit accounts in your name. You can request a fraud alert or a credit freeze for free by phone or online. You should also get a free copy of your credit report from each of the credit bureaus once a year through [AnnualCreditReport.com]. You should review your credit report for any errors or unauthorized accounts and dispute any you find.
Contact the companies or agencies involved and dispute the charges or claims. You should call the creditors, banks, government agencies, or other entities that are associated with the fraudulent activity and inform them that your identity has been stolen.
Also inform them that your identity has been stolen and ask them to close the accounts, reverse the charges, or cancel the claims that are not yours. You should also ask them to send you a letter confirming they have taken these actions
How to Prevent Identity Theft in the First Place?
Prevention is better than a cure, and there are many ways to prevent your identity from being stolen in the first place. Here are some tips on how to protect your personal and financial information:
Be careful when sharing your SSN, especially online or over the phone. You should only give out your SSN when it is absolutely necessary, such as for school enrollment, medical care, or government services. You should also verify the identity and legitimacy of the person or organization that is requesting your SSN and ask them how they will use, store, and protect it.
Ask questions before giving out your SSN to anyone who requests it. You should find out why they need your SSN, how they will use it, how long they will keep it, and how they will dispose of it. You should also ask if there are any alternatives to providing your SSN, such as another form of identification or a unique identifier.
Protect your documents and devices that contain your personal information. You should keep your driver’s license, passport, Social Security card, and other important documents in a safe place, such as a safe or locked drawer. You should also shred or delete any unwanted or outdated information that has your SSN on it, such as forms, receipts, or statements. You should also secure your devices that have your personal information on them, such as your computer, phone, or tablet. You should use passwords, encryption, antivirus software, and firewalls to protect your devices from hackers or thieves.
Monitor your mail and other sources of personal information for signs of identity theft. You should check your mail regularly and look for any suspicious or unusual items, such as bills, collections calls, or tax notices in your name for things you did not buy or do. You should also monitor your school records, medical records, and online accounts for any changes or errors that may indicate identity theft. If you notice anything wrong or out of place, you should quickly report it.
How to Hire Legal Experts to Penalize Identity Theft Frauds
Identity theft is not only a crime that harms the victims, but also a crime that undermines the trust and security of the society. Identity theft frauds can cause significant financial losses, damage reputations, and endanger public safety. Therefore, it is important to hold the identity thieves accountable and penalize them for their actions.
However, prosecuting and punishing identity theft frauds can be challenging, as they often involve complex and cross-border issues, such as multiple jurisdictions, multiple victims, multiple perpetrators, multiple offenses, etc. That’s why you may need legal experts to help you with your case.
A identity theft attorney can help you with various tasks, such as:
Representing you in court or arbitration if necessary
Identifying and locating the identity thief or the fraudster
Gathering evidence and information to prove the identity theft and the fraud
Negotiating plea bargains or settlements with the identity thief or the fraudster
Filing criminal charges or civil lawsuits against the identity thief or the fraudster
Seeking restitution or compensation for any losses or damages caused by the identity theft or the fraud
Hiring a legal expert can help you achieve justice and deterrence, as they can handle the legal process and advocate for your rights and interests. They can also advise you on the best course of action and strategy for your case.
However, finding a qualified and experienced identity theft attorney can be difficult, as not all lawyers are familiar with this specific area of law. That’s why you should use [Legal Yogi], a service that connects you with the best identity theft attorneys in your area.
Legal Yogi is not a law firm or a lawyer referral service. It is an independent platform that helps you find the right lawyer for your case. Legal Yogi does not charge any fees or commissions for using its service. You only pay the lawyer you hire for their legal services.
If you want to hire legal experts to penalize identity theft frauds, don’t waste time searching for lawyers on your own. Use Legal Yogi to get connected with the best identity theft attorneys in your area today.