It’s illegal in California to obtain someone else’s personal identifying information to use it for unlawful purposes. Identity theft results in financial losses or damaged reputation, which is why the penalties of a conviction and consequences of a criminal record for the crime are severe.
Fortunately, when faced with these charges, you can fight to avoid a conviction, but with the help of a criminal attorney. At the Pasadena Criminal Attorney, we can review your case and develop the best defense strategies. We can argue that you had consent from the owner to take personal identifying details, or you didn’t use the information for illegal purposes. That way, we can challenge the allegations against you and obtain a favorable outcome.
Legal Definition of Identity Theft
As per PC 530.5, it’s illegal to engage in the following activities:
- Deliberately acquire someone else’s personally-identifying details and use them unlawfully without the owner’s permission.
- You are obtaining information identifying someone else without consent and using it fraudulently.
- You are selling, offering, or transferring identifying details of another person without their consent to someone else for fraud purposes.
- Offering, putting up for sale, or transferring identifying information of another individual while aware they might use the details in the commission of fraud.
Crucial Elements of Identity Theft
Under the definition of identity theft, there are three questions regarding personal identifying details, knowingly acquiring and illegal purposes, and fraud. These elements and terms are further highlighted below:
Personal Identifying Details
California statutes list several forms of personally identifying details that may be illegally taken or utilized for identity theft purposes. These kinds of information include:
- The victim’s birth date, name, phone number, and address
- Driver’s license number
- Social security number and taxpayers identification number
- Passport number
- Worker’s I.D. and school I.D
- Birth or death certificate details
Note that California laws further include precise financial details as identifying information of another person. The details include:
- Bank accounts
- Credit card numbers
- Banking PINs
Furthermore, biometric information like voiceprints, fingerprints, retina or iris images is personal identifying details.
You could also be subject to identity theft charges if you unlawful obtain information that affects the victim’s criminal history.
Willfully Acquire and Illegal Purposes
When proving identity theft, the prosecutor must demonstrate illegal plans for obtaining the personal information. The law outlines several activities that demonstrate criminal intent for someone else’s identifying information. These activities include applying for a credit card, taking goods and property, or requesting medical details.
The Element of Fraud
Fraud is defined as willful acts intended to obtain illegal or unfair advantages or cause someone else to sustain a loss. As mentioned above, fraudulent intent or incurring a loss is not a requirement for a conviction for a PC 530.5 violation.
Identity Theft as a Federal Crime
As per 18U.S.C 1028, you can face prosecution for identity theft as a federal offense. Federal statutes have a more extensive scope than California laws, which means a PC 530.5 violation can result in California law and federal law penalties. A conviction under federal statutes carries harsher penalties.
The federal law makes it unlawful to deliberately display someone else’s I.D., knowingly transfer stolen identity details from one individual to another, or consciously possess, transport, offer or make equipment used in the production of false identifying information.
The penalties for identity theft conviction under federal law include:
- No more than fifteen years of prison incarceration
- Court fines of $250,000 for an individual and $500,000 for an organization
Furthermore, you will face sentence enhancement, which will result in prison incarceration of twenty years if it is discovered you engaged in the crime to facilitate a drug trafficking crime. Besides, if the PC 530.5 violation occurs while committing a violent crime or having a prior conviction for identity theft, you will be subject to sentence enhancement.
Remember that the sentence will be enhanced further to thirty years of federal imprisonment if you engaged in identity theft to provide international or domestic terrorism.
Hacking Identity Theft
With the current technological advancements and widespread availability of the internet, hacking has become rampant. You can engage in the crime of identity theft by gaining unauthorized access to someone else’s computer, computer network, or data.
Hacking personal information can happen through computer data or system manipulation. As a defendant, you could also steal someone’s login information and login into their system to commit fraud without the victim’s knowledge.
PC 502 outlines hacking, and it makes it illegal for a person to deliberately and without permission access someone else’s computer to alter, destroy, or delete information with the intent to:
- Execute or design a plan to defraud or deceive
- Unlawfully control or obtain money or property.
If you engage in any of these activities, then you could face identity theft charges.
Identity Theft Penalties
The crime of identity theft in California is a wobbler. When sentenced for the offense, the penalties imposed are the same independent of whether you obtained, held, sold, transferred, or used the personal identifying details illegally. The penalties depend on the preferred charge and the severity of harm caused by your actions against the victim.
When the preferred charge is a misdemeanor, upon sentencing, you may be subject to the following penalties:
- Informal or summary probation
- County jail custody for no more than twelve months
- A court-imposed fine not exceeding $1,000
- Both incarceration and court fines
Based on your case’s factual circumstances and previous criminal conviction, the prosecuting team might charge you with felony identity theft. The offense is punishable by:
- Formal probation
- State incarceration for a maximum of thirty-six months
- Court order requiring payment of no more than $10,000 fine
If you are an alien facing identity theft charges, your primary concern should be the effects of a conviction on your immigration status. If identity theft involves fraud, it is classified as a crime of moral turpitude, meaning it can result in deportation or inadmissibility to the United States. You must try and avoid these immigration consequences using all means possible. Retain the legal services of a criminal attorney if you are an immigrant. The attorney will defend against the charges resulting in a case dismissal or charge reduction.
Other Consequences of an Identity Theft Sentence
The consequences of a conviction go further than you think. Even after sentence completion, you will have a criminal record, which affects various aspects of your life. A criminal background makes you untrustworthy, meaning that employers might use the history as a basis for disqualification whenever you are looking for a job.
Leasing an apartment too becomes an uphill task with a criminal record. Landlords run background checks on their potential tenants to ensure they are trustworthy people. If a background check shows you have a criminal record, the landlord will likely deny you the lease.
When charged and sentenced for felony theft of personally identifying details, you lose your voting rights while serving a prison sentence or on parole. However, the voting rights are automatically restored when you complete the prison sentence or probation.
A criminal conviction also results in loss of civil rights, like serving in a jury. Therefore, if you have been sentenced for a crime and want to serve in a jury, you must talk to a criminal defense attorney to restore your civil rights to take part in civic duties.
If it has been your dream to serve in the military with a criminal record, admission is impossible. However, if you obtain a waiver from the secretary of defense, entry into the military is possible. And if you are already in the military and have been convicted for a felony, you will not be eligible for a military pension.
A felony conviction for identity theft can hinder your ability to obtain a professional license. Even the already licensed professionals can lose their licenses when convicted of felony offenses, which destroys careers.
With the knowledge of the above consequences in mind, you should do everything in your power to prevent a conviction. If not possible, you should consider deleting your criminal record after completing your sentence.
Criminal Record Expunction
After a conviction for a PC 530.5 violation, the good news is that the criminal record can be expunged. It means that the records of your criminal history will be deleted from public records. You can only disclose these records when applying for a public office or government agency job.
The advantages associated with an expunction don’t come easily. To be eligible for an expunction, you must complete your jail sentence or probation and any other qualifications imposed by the court. After, your defense attorney can petition the judge for an expunction. Note that the prosecutor is allowed to contest your application for an expunction if they feel you don’t deserve it.
The opposing sides present their facts for or against an expunction and the judge makes the final decision. Your attorney will give reasons why your record needs to be erased, while the prosecution will argue against deleting the history. To build a strong argument that will result in an expunction, you will need to hire an experienced attorney.
Legal Defenses for Identity Theft
It’s an excellent idea to work with a criminal defense attorney when facing identity theft allegations or charges. A profound attorney will conduct an independent investigation and compare the facts with the prosecuting team’s evidence. In case of inconsistencies, the legal expert will raise these concerns during defense, which will act in your favor.
Your attorney will interrogate the accuser to determine if they might have any ill motives by making the allegations. If the allegations are false or you are falsely accused, the attorney will prove these facts and have the charges dropped. An attorney will also be pivotal during plea bargaining to ensure you obtain a favorable deal.
Unless you know legal matters and understand white-collar crime laws, you should work with a criminal defense attorney.
Some of the legal defenses an attorney will mount for a favorable ruling include:
Lack of Unlawful Purpose
Recall that you are only guilty of identity theft if you take personal identifying details of someone else for illegal or unlawful purposes. It means in your defense; your attorney can argue that you didn’t intend to use the information for criminal purposes. You can claim that you obtained the personal information to compile a report.
If the prosecution has no facts to prove you had unlawful intentions when you accessed the personal information, you are innocent. The prosecutor must demonstrate that you intended to use the personal details for criminal purposes to obtain a conviction.
Lack of Willful Act
Also, recall a significant element the prosecuting attorney uses to demonstrate identity theft is willfulness. If you willingly obtained identifying details of another person, then the court will find you guilty. However, if you didn’t go out on your way to acquire the personal information, you are innocent.
Similarly, if you took the personal details by accident, you are not guilty of a PC 530.5 violation. However, your attorney needs to present facts or circumstantial evidence to show your actions were not deliberate.
Lack of Plans or Purpose to Defraud
Remember, the prosecutor isn’t required to prove fraudulent intent to obtain a conviction. However, based on the facts of the case, they might be required to prove you acted with intent to deceive. This is a challenging element to prove.
Your defense attorney can use this to your advantage and assert that you didn’t act with the requisite intent to defraud or deceive hence the need to reduce or dismiss the charges.
A person with a vendetta against you can make false allegations for revenge. The accuser can plant the stolen identifying details, and when a search is conducted, the documents are found on you. If you find yourself in a situation like this, you can argue that you have been framed.
Claiming you have been framed isn’t enough. Your attorney must request an interview with the informant to determine the motive of the allegations. The legal professional will also review the claims and evidence submitted to present facts that demonstrate you were set-up. That way, the charges will be dropped.
You can face identity theft allegations on mistaken identity. These cases are common where hacking is involved. Hackers may steal your computer system logins to hide their identity after committing computer fraud. When you find yourself in a situation like this, the best action is to talk to a criminal attorney. They will investigate the claims and present facts to demonstrate that your logins were used without your knowledge.
Identity Theft Related offenses
Identity theft is connected to several other white-collar crimes, meaning you can be charged alongside the crime or in place of the ongoing offense. Some of these offenses include:
According to California PC 529, false impersonation utilizes someone else’s name or identity to deceive or personal gain. The prosecuting team can opt to charge you with a misdemeanor or felony. A sentence for the crime can result in no more than thirty-six months in jail.
A PC 529 violation occurs when you pretend to be someone else and engage in conduct that could make you criminally or civilly liable, cause the other individual money loss, or gain an unfair advantage from the personation.
If you end up with a conviction, you will be subject to misdemeanor or felony penalties based on the preferred charge. A sentence for a misdemeanor is punishable by up to twelve months in jail, while a felony is punishable by up to thirty-six months in prison. Further, a judge could impose informal or felony probation instead of jail time.
Although the consequences of a conviction are harsh, you can mount solid legal defenses to prevent a sentence with an attorney’s help. Some of the defense strategies include lack of other acts, false accusations, and lack of benefits.
Credit Card Fraud
When charged with identity theft where you used someone else’s credit without their consent, you could face an additional credit fraud charge. Some of the sections whose violation could result in credit fraud charges include:
- PC 484e prohibits individuals from selling or possessing credit card information or credit cards belonging to someone else without their permission.
- PC 484f says that it is illegal to change an existing credit card or assign another person’s name or signature on a credit card transaction without the owner’s permission.
- PC 484g says it’s a crime to use a stolen, expired, or fake credit card to purchase when aware it’s not valid or connected to any funds.
- PC 484h prohibits individuals from accepting payments from stolen, fake, or revoked credit cards. At the same time, they know the cards are invalid or submit false proof of a transaction to obtain payment for products when no such transaction took place.
- PC 484i prohibits the production, possession, or trafficking of counterfeit credit cards.
- PC 484j makes it an offense to deliberately communicate credit card details with the plans to defraud an individual or institution.
The credit card details referred to in this case include PINs, passwords, or private account information.
Upon conviction, the punishment for credit fraud is like that of offenses like forgery, petty theft, and grand theft.
If the court charges you with credit fraud with or in place of identity theft, an experienced attorney can contest the charges by arguing that you didn’t intend to commit fraud because you didn’t act in requisite intent.
Further, the attorney can assert that your arrest lacked probable cause, and as such, all the evidence gathered is inadmissible. Exclusion of all the illegally collected evidence means the prosecution will be left with little or no evidence, and the case will be dismissed.
You could also claim that the evidence against you was obtained through an unreasonable or illegal search. The charges against you will therefore be dropped or dismissed.
PC 470 - Forgery
Forgery is the other offense that is closely related to identity theft. You will face charges for violating this statute if you falsify someone else’s signature or fraudulently change particular documents.
Remember that you could face charges for both forgery and identity theft, but depending on the crime’s circumstances or nature.
Under PEN 530.5(e) defines mail theft as:
- Stealing or taking nail from a mailbox or receptacle
- Uses deceit or fraud to access mail from any of the above sources
- Removes the content of a stolen mail
- Destroys or hides any stolen mail
- Purchase, receive or illegally hold stolen mail knowingly.
The crime is connected with identity theft because most people commit mail theft to access personal identifying information to facilitate identity theft commission. Mail, in this case, refers to postcards, letters, or packages.
A PC 530.5(e) violation is a misdemeanor whose sentencing is punishable by informal probation, no more than twelve months in jail custody, or a court fine of one thousand dollars.
Before, mail theft was considered an offense committed by bored teenagers. However, California authorities are very strict with the offense nowadays because street criminal gangs are also involved in the crime committed. For this reason, a conviction for the offense can have serious consequences even in your future life.
An experienced attorney should represent you to mount the proper defenses. Your attorney can assert that you were wrongly or falsely accused or you committed the crime by accident. You can claim you absent-mindedly opened a neighbor’s mail or grabbed another person’s mail, thinking it belongs to you.
Find an Experienced White Collar Crimes Near Me
Incidents of identity theft have been on the rise, with any person falling victim to the crime. In a bid to reduce this crime, judges and jurors impose severe sentences to defendants convicted of this crime. Don’t leave your case to chance by hiring the right attorney for representation. If you need help fight these charges, the Pasadena Criminal Attorney can help. Contact us today at 626-689-2277 for quality advice from our attorneys.