Identity theft takes place when one person steals another’s personal information and uses it to empty bank accounts, get credit cards, acquire loans, purchase property, secure employment or avoid criminal charges. Perpetrators of identity theft often target Social Security numbers, phone numbers, addresses, bank account information and credit card information. The expansion of the Internet around the world has made identity theft easier and more prevalent than ever before. It is now a global problem; because of that, law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and lawmakers have made combating it a top priority. If you have been involved with identity theft, contact an attorney from Schwartz Law Firm in Farmington Hills, Michigan, who is familiar with the law of identity theft and the Internet.
How Does Identity Theft Happen?
Every day, millions of Americans conduct transactions in which our personal information could be at risk. For example, shopping online or checking your bank account information from a mobile phone both involve the transmission of sensitive financial data over a potentially insecure network. Even submitting taxes electronically, applying for a job or using a credit card to pay at a restaurant means that someone else has access to information about you.
Although identity theft can begin with something as simple as finding a bank statement in a trash can, the Internet has become a key resource for those attempting to discover personal information about others. Some websites, like including those of retail businesses or and financial institutions, may not use sufficient security to protect client information. Other times, websites are vulnerable to attacks by hackers seeking important personal information like Social Security numbers, credit card account numbers, birth dates, passwords and bank account information. High-profile groups like Anonymous, as well as known criminal syndicates, have successfully hacked their way past the protections of sites hosted by some of the country’s largest retailers and even government agencies. In recent years, huge department stores and insurance companies have been victims of high-profile hacks, as was the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential election.
The Consequences of Identity Theft
Whether the thief uses the victim’s personal information to apply for and max out credit cards that will never be paid off or to secure medical treatment (by using another person’s health insurance coverage), the identity theft victim is left to deal with the consequences. A victim can spend months or even years trying to undo the damage and restore his or her good name. This can involve closing accounts, writing letters, dealing with creditors, cooperating with police and communicating with credit bureaus.
Federal law makes identity theft a crime punishable by imprisonment for up to 15 years, plus forfeiture of all of the assets obtained as a result of the theft; a fine also may be imposed (18 U.S.C. §1028). If the identity theft occurred during or in relation to certain felonies, imprisonment for an additional two years will be added to the sentence already imposed for identity theft (see 18 U.S.C. §1028A on Aggravated Identity Theft). Identity theft may also be prosecuted under other federal laws, including those prohibiting Social Security fraud and credit card fraud.
In addition, many states have enacted their own criminal laws against identity theft and similar fraudulent acts. Some states have also enacted laws that grant the victim the opportunity to file a civil suit against the perpetrator in an attempt to recover monetary damages. In states that do not have a specific law against identity theft, the crime may be prosecuted under other laws, such as laws against fraud or theft of personal property.
There have been instances of identity theft victims taking legal action against the retailers and financial institutions that left their information vulnerable to thieves. On a related note, if an identity theft victim is sued for nonpayment of a debt that was run up by the thief, the victim may introduce evidence of the crime to demonstrate who really incurred the debt.
Defenses to a Charge of Identity Theft
If you have been accused of identity theft, you have the right to vigorously defend yourself. It is possible that, for example, you yourself are the victim of mistaken identity and didn’t commit the offense for which you have been charged. Or, the law may not cover the actions you allegedly performed. It could also be that the victim in question may have allowed you to use his or her identity, as is sometimes the case with family members where credit issues or lack of medical insurance are present. The unique defense strategy chosen by you and your criminal defense team will depend upon the unique facts of your case and potential outcomes.
Begin Your Defense Today
As the public’s awareness of identity theft grows, authorities are increasingly aggressive in pursuing identity theft charges. Contact an experienced lawyer from Schwartz Law Firm in Farmington Hills, Michigan, to learn about the legal options that are available to you.
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