Identity theft is taken very seriously in California. It is talked about frequently in the media and the subject of public debate. It is a high-profile crime partly because it affects so many Californians. It is also considered a fraud crime. In most cases, it is not simply stealing someone else's identity. More generally it is the stealing of information that can facilitate fraudulent activities. There are many ways you can commit this offense. So what constitutes identity theft?
You commit identity theft when you willingly and knowingly take other people's personal identifying information for unlawful purposes. Personal identifying information under California Penal Code 530.55 (b) can include:
Identifiers such as:
- A person's or business's name
- Telephone number
- Place of employment
- Date of birth
- Information from a birth or death certificate
Identification numbers such as:
- Health insurance number
- Tax ID number
- School ID number
- State or federal driver's license or ID number
- Social security number
- Employee ID number
- Professional or occupational number
- Alien registration number
- Passport number
Financial account information such as:
- Mother's maiden name
- Deposit account number
- Savings account number
- Checking account number
- Credit card number of an individual
- Bank PIN number or password
Biometric data such as:
- Facial scan identifiers
- Retina or iris image
- Any other biometric identifying data
- Unique electronic data (such as routing or device codes)
The person could be living or deceased. Businesses, organizations, and any other legal entities are included here. The unlawful purpose could be to access healthcare or financial information, obtain credit, goods, property, or services without the person's consent. It could also be obtaining the information to sell, transfer, or transmit to another person. Stealing personal information in order to avoid criminal prosecution or a fine is also considered identity theft.
Identity theft can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. The facts and circumstances of your case and your prior criminal history can influence how you will be charged and sentenced. If you are charged with taking personal information from a person for an unlawful purpose, you can face a misdemeanor charge. This is punishable by up to one year in a county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. Your penalties may increase if you have a prior criminal history or the facts and circumstances of your case warrant it. If you are charged with a felony, you could face up to three years in a state prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000. And, even if you steal one person's identity, you can still be charged for more than one violation. For example, if you stole someone's credit card or bank account information and made five purchases, you could be charged with five separate offenses.
Identity theft can also be a federal offense. If you knowingly display or use someone else's ID, transfer stolen documents, are involved in ID reproduction, or otherwise steal personal information to commit a federal offense or a felony offense, you could be federally prosecuted. A federal conviction could result in significant fines and up to thirty years in prison.
You should always speak with an experienced California criminal defense attorney when facing fraud charges. It is a serious offense, and the consequences could be severe. There may be a defense applicable to your case. You cannot be convicted if you did not obtain the personal information for an unlawful purpose or if you did not have the intent to commit fraud. Similarly, you cannot be convicted if you did not knowingly acquire the information. False accusations of identity theft are not uncommon and could be fought. Interactive computer services or software devices that take personal information are exempt from prosecution as long as the information isn't taken with the intent to defraud. Usually, however, these services involve consumer consent in the terms of service. Because there are so many defense strategies, you should speak with an experienced attorney about your case.
Are you facing identity theft charges and have some questions? Contact attorney Christopher Martens and his legal team for legal help in Tulare, Fresno or Kings County. Experienced in criminal defense, Mr. Martens will work hard to ensure you have a strong defense against your charges. With over ten years experience in criminal defense, Attorney Martens has taken over 50 cases to trial and will not be afraid to do the same for you. Call our Visalia or Hanford, CA offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at MartensLaw@gmail.com for a free consultation.