Identity theft has been one of the most rapidly emerging crimes in this country in the past decade-plus, and one which draws intense law enforcement attention wherever and however it happens. Why? Well, if you’ve ever been a victim of identity theft, no matter how minor, you already know the answer. Even if you’ve suffered no financial impact–say your online firewall caught the matter in time–the loss of your sense of privacy and security is no small matter.
If you haven’t been a victim yet, count yourself lucky. Then try to imagine for a moment that your luck has run out. For example, picture contacting the IRS for the status of your overdue tax refund , only to be told that the check went out months ago–to someone or some address you never heard of before. Then imagine the time and effort involved to straighten out that kind of mess, while all the plans you had for that refund (some of them maybe urgent) have to be placed on hold. Or imagine filling out an application for a home mortgage, auto loan, or other debt financing, and getting the shock of your life when your credit report is pulled and you’ve got thousands of dollars in delinquencies for accounts you never opened, with vendors you never heard of. Get the picture?
That’s why any accusation of identity theft is nothing to take lightly. Recent state and Federal laws vividly reflect the seriousness with which law enforcement takes these matters, and the punishments are not trivial. If you or a loved one has been accused of involvement in identity theft, a call to a qualified, experienced attorney is essential.
Federal Identity Theft Law
In the federal system, identity theft is primarily governed by the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998 (ITADA). The Act is a complicated piece of legislation which made identity theft a federal crime, established substantial penalties, and closed loopholes that had previously made certain instances of possessing another person’s identity legal.
In a federal indictment, identity theft normally is not charged alone, but accompanies other charges, such as possession of unauthorized access devices with intent to commit fraud. An “access device” is any item that contains personal identifying information–a Social Security or public benefits card; a credit or debit card; or the like. Trafficking in unauthorized access devices, or access device fraud, is an even more serious charge, involving actual use of the devices to obtain property worth over $1,000.
Since the fraudulent use of these items almost always involves electronic transactions crossing state lines, these activities are said to affect interstate commerce–which automatically places these matters under federal jurisdiction. This is why the vast majority of identity theft prosecutions in the United States are pursued at the federal level. Of course, if two or more people are involved in a scheme or plan to commit identity theft, conspiracy charges may also apply.
If a person is convicted of identity theft and one or more companion charges, a mandatory sentence of two years in federal prison must be imposed for the identity theft. That sentence must be served consecutively to the sentence imposed on the companion charge–once one sentence ends, the next must begin. The court is not permitted to impose the sentences concurrently, or beginning at the same time and running side by side.
Other federal laws that have been enacted to attack identity theft are the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act, and the Identity Theft Enforcement and Restitution Act. These laws are equally complex, requiring the services of an astute, dedicated attorney to maneuver through their unique minefields.
Florida Identity Theft Law
Florida also has multiple statutes that govern the crime and punishments of identity theft. Chapter 817 of the Florida statutes defines the following acts as identity theft offenses:
- Criminal use or possession of personal identification information;
- Criminal use of personal identification information to harass;
- Obtaining property by false impersonation;
- Use of a minor’s personal identification information;
- Use or possession of a deceased person’s personal identification information; and
- Counterfeit or fictitious personal identification information.
Needless to say, Florida has established strict penalties for identity theft under Chapter 817 of state law. The punishment for identity theft is different than the normal theft of property, and is much harsher. If found guilty of identity theft under Florida law, the following punishments apply:
- 3rd degree felony (up to 5 years in prison): Wilfully using another’s personal identifying information;
- 2nd degree felony (up to 15 years): Wilfully using another’s personal identifying information to obtain property worth more than $5,000 OR using the information of 10-19 individuals; and
- 1st degree felony (up to 30 years): Wilfully using another’s personal identifying information to obtain property worth more than $50,000 OR using the information of 20 or more individuals.
Each felony comes with a mandatory prison sentence of multiple years, in addition to significant fines. The court may also order you to pay restitution to repay what you have taken.
A Florida Identity Theft Attorney Can Help
With specialized government units investigating identity theft crimes, harsher laws, and stricter penalties, it is imperative that you have an experienced identity theft defense attorney on your side. If you or a loved one has been charged with identity theft in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or anywhere in the state of Florida , let the Tony Moss Firm, L.L.C. defend your case with the attention and dedication that it needs. Call or contact the office today for a free and confidential consultation of your case. He will fight for your rights under the law because fairness and justice are essential human values that we all deserve.