Overview of Identify Theft in California
California Penal Code 530.5 defines the crime of identity theft as unlawful taking or using another person’s personal information to defraud the person. Whether you do it to gain money, real estate, medical services, or commercial services, identity theft is a serious offense. Sometimes, offenders violate identity theft laws for pure revenge or escape criminal prosecution and punishment. You can be arrested charged with identity theft for stealing and using, passing, or selling stolen identification information.
Before you face a conviction for identity theft, the prosecution must prove the following elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt:
1) You willfully and unlawfully Possess, Acquired, Sold, or Manufactured another Person’s Personal or Identification Information
Willfully means that you acted deliberately even when no malice was intended. This intention does not necessarily mean that you sought out the information. You can be arrested for identity theft if you stumbled upon the document but decided to accept them. If you encounter another person’s personal information and decide to store it for later use, you could be charged with violating PC 530.5.
In today’s world, identification information could be many things, including social security numbers, driver’s license, tax information, passport numbers, bank account information, birth and death dates, among others. Additionally, voiceprints, iris images, or fingerprints are considered identification information.
2) You Acquired the Documents without the Owners Knowledge or Consent
Most theft-related crimes arise from taking something that belongs to another person without their consent. Therefore, when proving your guilt under this statute, the prosecution must prove that you possessed, stored, or used the personal information without the owner’s consent.
3) You Acted with a Fraudulent Intent
Under California criminal law, fraud is an intentional act aimed at acquiring unlawful gain or causing loss to another person. For identity theft, an intent to defraud involves the financial benefit that the offender gains. Using another person’s social security card to obtain their advantage is a perfect example of fraud for the crime of identity theft.
In identity theft cases, an intention to defraud does not have to be met with actual loss. Therefore, the prosecutor does not need to prove that the alleged victim suffered a loss. An attempt to defraud another person using their identification information is enough to secure a conviction under CPC 530.5.
Common Types of Identity theft
Identity theft charges are always based on a defendant acquiring the victim’s information and using it to impersonate them. Different forms of identity theft could give rise to California PC 530.5 charges, including:
- Financial identity theft. You vomit a crime of financial identity theft if you steal another person’s bank or credit card information intending to use it for purchases. Most people who commit this type of identity theft max out the victim’s credit card resulting in severe financial loss. In addition to losing their money, the victim’s future purchasing power and credit score could go downhill.
- Social security identity theft. Social security is one of the most vulnerable personal documents in the United States. This makes social security identity theft the most prevalent form of crime. Most victims have their social security card replaced, and their benefits go to the perpetrator of the crime. With a stolen social security card, one can open fraudulent accounts causing further loss/
- Medical identity theft. The crime of medical identity theft takes place when an offender uses another individual’s information to seek medical treatment or undergo a medical procedure.
- Insurance identity theft. Offenders use insurance information belonging to another person to seek payouts from the insurance company. This could result in difficulties in obtaining a cover and an increase in the premiums.
- Child Identity Theft. Identity theft involving children is always carried out by relatives who have access to their information and use it to collect undeserving benefits or defraud the government. Since minors do not constantly monitor their credit scores, they are unaware of such crimes against them.
- Hacking identity theft. With the advancements in technology, internet hacking has become more common than ever. If you gain access to another person’s computer to access their personal information, you can face an arrest and charges for identity theft.
Penalties for Identity Theft
Under California PC 530.5, identity theft is a wobbler. This means that the crime can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor. In their decision to charge the crime, the prosecution will consider your criminal history and the circumstances surrounding the crime.
As a misdemeanor, a conviction for identity theft attracts the following penalties:
- A jail sentence of up to one year
- Fines not exceeding $1,000
On the other hand, a felony conviction is punishable by:
- Up to three years in county jail
- Fines that do not exceed $10,000
- Loss of your gun rights. If you face a felony identity theft conviction in California, you can lose your right to possess, purchase or use a firearm.
The judge could sentence you to probation as an alternative to jail or prison time. This allows you to serve part of your sentence from the outside. The duration of probation varies from one to five years, depending on the nature of your conviction. While on probation, the court will impose some conditions that you must follow. Probation conditions for a felony conviction are stricter than those of a misdemeanor. If you violate the probation conditions, the court could revoke the probation and reinstate the jail or prison sentence.
In addition to the legal consequences, a conviction for identity theft could be detrimental to your immigration status. Identity theft is a crime of moral turpitude, and an undocumented immigrant risks facing deportation after a conviction.
If you steal identification information belonging to several individuals, each instance will be treated as an individual crime. Therefore, you could be convicted for multiple counts of identity theft which results in severe penalties.
Federal Identity Theft
Since identity theft can cause significant personal losses for the victim, the government imposed the Identity Theft Assumption Deterrence Act. The federal identity theft law makes it a crime to:
- Knowingly issue another person’s identification information
- Transport Stolen identification information
- Possess, transfer or produce tools for use in the manufacture of false identification information
A conviction for federal identity theft attracts a fifteen-year prison sentence and $250,000 in fines for an individual or a $500,000 fine for an organization. If the prosecutor can prove that you engage in identity theft to aid drug trafficking, you may face an additional twenty years in jail.
Defense against California Penal Code Charges
A conviction for identity theft could impact your life long after you have served your prison sentence and paid the fines. Fortunately, not all arrests will result in a conviction. With the guidance of a skilled criminal defense attorney, you can fight the charges to avoid a conviction or have your penalties reduced. Common legal defenses you can employ in your identity theft case include:
- No unlawful purpose. You can only be found guilty of violating PC 530.5 if the prosecutor can prove that you acquired another person’s information with an intent to use it unlawfully. You can use this defense by arguing that your aim of obtaining the information was not to commit a crime.
- You are a computer software provider. When used to defend identity theft charges, the law stipulates that a computer software provider cannot be guilty of this crime. However, it is important to understand that if you acquired the information to defraud the owner, you could be prosecuted and convicted for identity theft.
- No willful act. The prosecution must prove that you deliberately took, held, used, or passed another person’s documents to be used fraudulently. With the help of your attorney, you can argue that you obtained the documents accidentally or did not know that you had the information.
- Lack of intent to defraud. The crime of identity theft is not complete unless the prosecutor can prove that you acted intending to defraud. Proving an intent to commit fraud can be challenging for the prosecution, and your attorney can help you argue that you did not act with fraudulent intent.
- Mistaken identity. In cases involving hacking, it is common to be charged with identity theft based on mistaken identity. A hacker can steal your computer and use it to defraud another person. If you are a victim of mistaken identity, it is crucial to proceed with competent legal guidance.
- False Accusations. Cases built on false allegations are not uncommon. An individual with a grudge against you can plant stolen documents on you and proceed to accuse you of the crime falsely. Claiming that the allegations are false is not a solid defense. Your attorney must request to interview the informant to try and catch them in a lie and determine the motive of their false allegations.
Offenses Related to Identity Theft
The following offenses are connected to identity theft and can be challenged alongside or instead of PC 530.5:
You commit a crime of false impersonation if you use another person’s identity or name to participate in an activity that could cause them harm or cause you to gain improper benefit. Before you face a conviction for impersonation under California PC 529, the prosecution must prove that:
- You falsely impersonated another person in private or private.
- You performed an additional act that creates liability for the victim of benefit for yourself. The additional action must be something more than just identifying yourself as the alleged victim for this statute.
False impersonation is a wobbler. The prosecution can charge you with a felony or a misdemeanor at their discretion. A felony, in this case, is punishable by a prison sentence of up to three years and fines not exceeding $10,000. If your crime is charged as a misdemeanor. A conviction will see you spend up to one year in county jail. Additionally, you will be required to pay a $10,000 fine.
Forgery is a crime that occurs when a person falsifies or fraudulently alters a document. The idea behind charges forgery criminal charges are based on the following elements:
- You signed another person’s name, stole a person’s handwriting, or altered a document.
- You acted intending to defraud another person.
If you use another person’s identification to defraud them, you could be charged with both forgery and identity theft. In California, forgery can either be a misdemeanor or a felony. As a misdemeanor, forgery is punishable by a year in jail and a fine not exceeding $1,000. On the other hand, a felony conviction attracts a three-year jail sentence. Additionally, forgery is a crime of moral turpitude, and a conviction may have negative immigration consequences for individuals in the United States illegally.
Obtaining another person’s identification information with an intent to use it to commit fraud could result in an arrest and charges for identity theft. Incidents of identity theft have been on the rise, and anyone could be a victim of the crime. In an attempt to reduce the instances of the crime, judges impose severe penalties for defendants who are convicted for the offense. Therefore, you should not leave your case to chance. As soon as you learn of the charges or face an arrest, it would be wise to contact the right attorney for representation.
At Long Beach Criminal Attorney, we will help you build a strong defense and aggressively fight for your rights to ensure the best possible outcome in your case. We serve clients requiring legal guidance and representation to fight identity theft charges in Long Beach, CA. Call us today at 562-308-7807 to discuss the details of your case.