An identity theft charge can lead to severe consequences, including years in state or federal prison and steep fines. With the rise of identity theft nationally, federal prosecutors started aggressively pursuing these cases with the support and resources of the federal government on their side.
If you have been charged, you need legal help to protect your rights and defend yourself in court. We have identity theft lawyers in Los Angeles devoted to helping people defend themselves against state and federal charges.
An Identity Theft Charge is Not the End of Your Life
Our Los Angeles defense attorneys have a reputation for solving the toughest legal challenges for our clients. We take the weight off your shoulders so you can sleep better at night knowing someone is fighting for your future. The attorneys at our firm leverage their experience as former public defenders and their strong relationships within the legal arena to achieve results. We will work hard to preserve your freedom regardless of the charges. Everybody makes mistakes. Let’s move forward.
For a free legal consultation with a identity theft lawyer serving Los Angeles, call (310) 928-9347
What is Identity Theft Under California Law?
The state of California considers identity theft as willfully obtaining someone else’s personal identifying information and using it for any unlawful purpose without their consent, for instance, signing a document under someone else’s name or using someone else’s credit card. Therefore, identity theft is considered a serious offense in California.
You Can be Convicted of Identity Theft in Los Angeles if You Have Stolen This Information
In California, the laws for stealing personal identifying information protect a range of categories of victims beyond those who are living human beings. You can be convicted of identity theft if you have illegally obtained and unlawfully used the information of a:
- Living person
- Deceased person
- Firm, organization, partnership, or association
- Business trust
- Company or corporation
- Public entity
- Any other legal entity
In addition, California law defines what it considers personal information for the purposes of identity theft. It is a crime to steal and use the following pieces of information unlawfully:
- Date of birth
- Phone number
- Birth or death certificate information
- Social security number or Tax ID number
- Driver’s license or state ID number
- School ID number
- Health insurance number
- Employee ID number
- Place of employment
- Professional or occupational number
- Checking, savings, or demand deposit account number
- PIN number or password
- Credit card number
- Citizenship and Immigration Services-assigned number
- Government passport
- Biometric data (fingerprint, voiceprint, retina or iris image, etc.)
An identity theft attorney in Los Angeles can examine the specific details of your case and inform you of whether any information in your possession would be considered personal identifying information under the law.
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Federal Identity Theft Law
Federal identity theft law is found in the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998. It relates to more specific identity theft, targeting people who make or use stolen identification documents. Under federal law, it is illegal to:
- Knowingly transfer a stolen ID card or document to someone else, regardless of whether you sell or give it to the person
- Knowingly present another person’s ID card as your own
- Knowingly transfer, produce, possess, or traffic in equipment used to make fake ID documents
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Illegal Identity Theft Activities Under California Law
Legally, many different activities can count as identity theft—even if you would not usually think of them that way.
California and the U.S. federal system have laws making identity theft illegal. Activities prohibited by California law include:
- Stealing credit card information
- Using that credit card information to make purchases online
- Using someone else’s email account to impersonate them
- Using someone else’s name and Social Security number to collect welfare or Social Security payments
- Forging a signature on a document or a check (under California law)
- Setting up a new bank account with another individual’s social security number
- Using another taxpayer’s identification number to file a tax return and procure their refund
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What Does the Prosecution Have to Prove in a Federal Identity Theft Case?
The federal identity theft law makes it illegal to “knowingly” take some actions regarding identification documents.
That means that to be convicted, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you knew that you were doing something fraudulent or illegal. For example:
- If you are accused of knowingly transferring a stolen ID card or document, the prosecutor must prove you had knowledge the document was stolen.
- If you had ID-producing equipment, you must have known that you had it, and its purpose was to produce false identification documents.
You Had the Document in Your Possession
The feds will also need to prove that you had the document in your possession and either transferred or presented it (for example, showing it at a Social Security office to get benefits).
If you are accused of identity theft in connection with ID-producing equipment, the prosecution will need to prove you possessed, produced, transferred, or trafficked in it.
Mail or Wire Fraud
Finally, identity theft is often prosecuted along with other charges such as mail fraud or wire fraud. These are separate charges, and each has its elements of proof. The prosecution must meet its burden of proof for each charge before you can be convicted of it. A Los Angeles identity theft attorney can help ensure this happens.
What if I Did Not Defraud Anyone or Make Money?
Under the identity theft law, your actions matter when it comes to your guilt or innocence – not the results. You can be convicted even if you never made money due to the identification.
However, whether you made any money will make a difference when the federal or state court determines sentencing.
- Penalties for a federal identity theft conviction are less severe if you did not benefit financially, with the maximum sentence only applying to cases that involve theft over $1,000
- California prosecutors will likely seek charges that carry harsher penalties when the defendant made money at the victim’s expense.
What Are the Defenses Against a State or Federal Identity Theft Charge?
There are several defenses that your identity theft lawyer in Los Angeles might use to undermine the prosecution’s case or show that you are not guilty. Some typical defenses include:
Lack of Intent
You should not be found guilty if you did not mean to defraud anyone or commit a crime. For example, if a friend asked you to deliver an envelope containing several stolen IDs to someone else and believed the envelope contained family photos, you do not have criminal intent.
Intent can be difficult for the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt because there may be no evidence of what you were thinking.
The ID Owner Gave You Consent
You may believe the ID owner agreed that you could have or use it. This might be the case if, for example, you were helping someone apply for government benefits. If you have consent, you have not committed a crime.
Law Enforcement Violated Your Rights
Identity theft evidence is often collected through police searches, and the evidence can be inadmissible in court if the police do not follow proper search and seizure proceedings. Therefore, if the prosecution cannot use vital evidence, it may be forced to dismiss your case.
What Are the Penalties for Identity Theft in California?
Penal Code §473 (forgery and counterfeiting) and Penal Code §530.5 (false personation and cheats) each prosecute a different type of identity theft under California law. Therefore, the prosecution could charge an individual with a felony or misdemeanor under this legislation depending on their criminal history and case facts.
PC 530.5 Penalties
When PC §530.5 identity theft convictions are charged as a misdemeanor, the penalties are:
- Up to one year in county jail
- Up to a $1,000 maximum fine
An identity theft felony conviction for PC §530.5 can lead to:
- A county jail sentence of up to three years
- Fines of up to $1,000
PC 473 Penalties
Signature forgery punishments under PC §473 are charged as a misdemeanor if the forged item is less than $950. Penalties for these identity theft crimes include:
- A maximum one-year county jail sentence
- Up to $1,000 in fines
For an identity theft felony conviction under PC §473, the penalties include:
- A county jail sentence of up to three years
- A $10,000 maximum fine
- Community service
A criminal conviction automatically comes with the penalty of restitution in California. There are two forms of restitution: restitution fines and a restitution order.
If you are convicted of a crime such as identity theft, the court must impose a restitution fine against you regardless of the crime or the subsequent sentence. The restitution fine is an offender’s debt to society for criminal behavior. The court can only waive it if they have a good reason, not including your inability to pay. The fines mentioned above associated with misdemeanor and felony charges are restitution fines.
A restitution order or direct order of restitution is paid to victims of crimes who have suffered economic loss and non-economic loss (in specific circumstances) due to the criminal acts of the offender.
If identity theft in Los Angeles results in financial loss to the victim, the court must order you to pay an amount sufficient to reimburse the victim entirely. Restitution is paid for many types of economic losses, including:
- Damaged or stolen property (including money)
- Wages or profits lost
- Attorney’s fees
- Mental health counseling
- Costs of installing or increasing security due to the identity theft
What Are the Penalties for Federal Identity Theft?
The U.S. government takes identity theft seriously, charging it as a felony under federal law. The penalties for a federal identity theft conviction can include:
- 15 years in federal prison
- Fines of $5,000 or more depending on the case
A convicted person’s prison sentence could increase to 20 or 25 years if:
- The government connected the act of identity theft to a violent crime
- The identity theft was linked to international terrorism
- The defendant stole an identity to carry out a drug trafficking crime
- The perpetrator had a past federal identity theft charge
Additionally, even harsher penalties can be applied under the Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act. For instance, if an individual uses another person’s identification to steal Social Security benefits, commit domestic terrorism, or carry out immigration violations, that individual can be charged with aggravated identity theft.
In these case types, the government must tack on another two years forcommon identity theft and another five years for domestic terrorism. An identity theft lawyer in Los Angeles can review your case and advise you of your next steps.
How is a Federal Sentence Decided?
If convicted, the government will consider specific factors when deciding on a sentence:
- How the defendant conducts themselves
- How many victims were affected
- The amount of forged or stolen IDs
- How much damage the victims incurred
Los Angeles Identity Theft FAQs
It can be confusing to know what comes next if you are being charged with an identity theft crime. It can also be scary if you are unsure whether your case will remain at the state level or become a federal case. Our identity theft lawyers answer some frequently asked questions here.
- How much does it cost to deal with identity theft?
- How many years can you get for identity theft in California?
- What are the most common types of identity theft?
- Is identity theft a white-collar crime under California law?
- How much does it cost to deal with identity theft?
If you are being charged with identity theft, you can face fines from $1,000 if it is a misdemeanor and up to $10,000 if it is considered a felony.
How Many Years Can I Get for Identity Theft in California?
Identity theft is considered a “wobbler” offense, meaning it can be treated as a misdemeanor or felony. If you are convicted of the misdemeanor of identity theft, you can face up to one year in county jail. Felony charges have more severe consequences: up to three years in a California state prison.
What Are the Most Common Types of Identity Theft?
The most common types are:
- Medical identity theft: When individuals pretend to be someone else to get free medical care.
- Criminal identity theft: For instance, if you identify as somebody else during an arrest.
- Financial identity theft: This is one of the most common types. It happens, for instance, when someone logs into your bank account.
- Child identity theft: This one occurs when somebody uses the name or information of a minor to obtain something.
Is Identity Theft a White-Collar Crime Under California Law?
Yes. The state of California categorizes identity theft as a white-collar crime, and it can also be considered a felony offense depending on the particulars of the case. It tends to come with heavy penalties.
Talk to an Identity Theft Attorney in Los Angeles to Learn More Today
At Simmrin Law Group, we give you the strongest legal representation against federal and state-level identity theft crimes. We know the other side will work hard to convict you, and we are prepared to fight back.
Contact us today to take advantage of our free consultation so that we can explain your rights and show you how our Los Angeles identity theft lawyers can help.
Call or text (310) 928-9347 or complete a Free Case Evaluation form