Obtaining another’s personal identification information through misrepresentation or fraud with the primary goal of financial gain defines identity theft. Personal identifying details, including tax ID, social security numbers, credit card information, and other sensitive information, are the common information sources targeted by identity theft perpetrators. 

Prosecution rates of identity theft in California are up, showing the prosecutors’ resolve in addressing the issue. This, therefore, calls for individuals facing identity theft charges to seek experienced attorneys for representation, as the law could be harsh. If you face identity theft charges in Pasadena, CA, engage The Law Offices of Fountain & Hattersley team. 

Understanding Identity Theft

Penal Code 530.5 was enacted as a protection measure for victims of identity theft. The victims’ identities are stolen from government entities, health, and financial institutions. Others have their identity stolen from lost wallets with their credit or debit cards, social security data, or other identity cards.

The last decade has seen a growth in technology and, with it, identity theft cases. Technology has made it easy for anyone to access another’s personally identifiable information. The growth has increased the resolve of prosecutors to prosecute identity theft offenders. Here is a look at the two categories prosecutors will use in seeking convictions for identity theft offenders:

  • Simple Identity theft — Victims’ identities are retrieved from their stolen mail, credit or debit card information, passport, or identity card details. Simple identity theft is prosecuted under Penal Code 530.5.
  • Internet identity theft or internet fraud — This category handles the prosecution of those suspected to have obtained victims’ personally identifiable information online by hacking their phones or computers.

Internet fraud offenders can be prosecuted under California’s Penal Code 530.5 or federal law based on the circumstances of the case. Therefore, Penal Code 530.5 offenders will face state law punishment while federal law offenders face federal law penalties.

Simple Identity Theft 

The court relies on Penal Code 530.5 to define identity theft and the penalties an offender will face if convicted. The law details that fraudulently obtaining another person’s personal information to use it for illegal or fraudulent intent amounts to identity theft. This definition describes the pertinent aspects needed for an identity theft conviction as detailed below.

Willfully Obtaining Another’s Personal Identifying Information

A deliberate effort to acquire another’s personal identifying information best describes willfulness. Further, you must have obtained the information for any unlawful purpose. The district attorneys (DA) should provide evidence to support their claim of intent and the purpose of your actions.

However, it is worth noting that the DA does not have to prove your intentions to defraud to secure a guilty conviction. It is assumed that the evidence showing your deliberate actions and the purpose of your action are enough.

Personal Identifying Information

Identifying information is unique to each individual. The information singles you out from others. Therefore, it must be clear you obtained the victim’s:

  • Date of birth, address, phone number, and full names
  • Social security details, their tax, school or employment ID,
  • Passport or driver’s license information
  • Bank account or credit card details

Many identity theft offenders seek the above information to seek monetary relief from financial institutions, for example, auto loans or credit cards) or insurance and medical aid without express authority from the victim. 

Fraud  

What was the aim of your actions? 

This is an important question the DA has to address. They must provide proof that you committed fraud. However, they can demonstrate your intentions to commit fraud without producing evidence of you committing said fraud.

Any fraudulent activity is designed to benefit the perpetrator to the detriment of the victim. Therefore, it should be clear to the jury that the victim suffered a loss through your actions. Only then can you be convicted for identity theft.

Penalties Imposed on Penal Code 530.5 Offenders

Prosecutors, under Penal Code 530.5, have the discretion of pursuing misdemeanor or felony charges. Either of the following punishments is imposed on misdemeanor offenders:

Summary probation or a jail sentence not exceeding one year and/or fine not exceeding $1,000. 

Felony offenders face harsher penalties, including:

  • Formal probation or a prison term not exceeding three years
  • A fine not exceeding $10,000

It is worth noting, crimes deemed to fit the description of moral turpitude have immigration consequences on offenders. Identity theft is one such crime. Therefore, non-US citizens convicted of Penal Code 530.5 violations could be marked as inadmissible and deported to their home country. 

Internet Identity Theft or Internet Fraud 

Simply put, internet fraud is any activity tailored to acquire another’s personally identifiable information online. It is worth noting that you face charges for an array of California crimes when facing internet fraud. Your charges will be based on several crimes, and depending on the circumstances of your case, you could face charges under state or federal law.

If found guilty under state law, the judge will issue Penal Code 530.5 penalties. Federal penalties, on the other hand, differ from Penal Code 530.5 penalties, and it is equally important to analyze them, the prosecution’s process, as well as your defense options.

The past decade has seen a significant increase in identity theft cases online through phishing, fraudulent schemes, or accessing another’s computer without the owner’s authority. 

  • Phishing

Phishing describes the actions of creating an impression of a reputable digital entity to lure victims into providing personal information like their login credentials, credit card numbers, social security, or driver’s license details.

As required under Penal Code 530.5, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you willfully obtained the victim’s personally identifiable information without their consent with the intent of committing fraud. 

If convicted, the penalties are issued based on the circumstances of the case. Two ways stand out. 

  • Obtaining information from personal identification documents over email, retaining, selling, or transferring the data to a third party increases the chances of your prosecution under Penal Code 530.5. The penalties are as detailed above. In situations where you obtain another's credit card information to make fraudulent purchases, you face penalties as detailed under Penal Code 530.5 as well. 
  • Obtaining, possessing, or transferring another’s means of identification through an email or any other electronic means of communication to commit a federal crime. An example of a federal crime is using the information obtained to access bank accounts. The penalties for the offense are hefty. 
  • Prison sentences range from 5 to 20 years, depending on the gravity of the offense. First-time offenders face a maximum of five years in federal prison. Second offenders could face up to twenty years behind bars, especially if the identity theft is linked to violent crimes or drug trafficking. You risk facing 15 years in Federal prison if:
    • You obtained the personal identification information from a government-issued document.
    • You obtained goods, products, or services over $1,000 with the stolen identifiable information.  
  • Credit Card Fraud

Penal Code 484(e) defines and provides the penalties to be imposed on credit card fraud offenders. You violate Penal Code 484(e) if you use another’s credit card details to make unauthorized purchases. Prosecutors must prove the following:

  • You obtained, possessed, or transferred another’s credit card information without their consent with the intention of committing fraud or if you intended to sell the data to a third party
  • You unlawfully obtained the credit card information of more than four individuals within twelve months
  • You procured services or goods by using the fraudulently acquired credit card.

If the value of the goods or services procured exceeds $950, it is considered grand theft. If the value is less than $950, your actions are in line with petty theft crimes. The value of the goods or services procured is pivotal in determining the penalties you face if convicted. 

A conviction for a Penal Code 484e violation attracts hefty penalties. Misdemeanor grand theft violators could face a one-year jail sentence. Felony grand theft convictions are penalized with 16 months, two, or three-year prison sentence. On the other hand, petty theft violators are punished by summary probation, six months in jail, and/or a fine not exceeding $1,000. 

Prosecutors introduce federal credit card fraud charges if the following are true in your case.

  • You knowingly possessed 15 or more credit cards with the intention to commit fraud
  • You knowingly used the fraudulently obtained cards to pay for goods or services amounting to more than $1,000 in value in one year.

A conviction attracts a prison sentence of 10, 15, or 20 years depending on the circumstances of your case. 

  • Unauthorized Access or Use of a Computer

Internet use has had a significant positive impact on individuals and the country as well. The growth in the use of the internet has also created avenues of identity theft through unauthorized computer access, popularly referred to as hacking.

According to California’s Penal Code 502, any unauthorized access to another person’s computer, software, computer network, or data without authorization from the owner is a punishable offense.

From the above definition, prosecutors must prove specific elements for you to be found guilty of the crime. 

  • You knowingly access another’s computer or network without their authority
  • Your intentions of accessing the computer were fraudulent, meant to cause harm or commit a crime.

Therefore accessing another’s data or personal information from their computer to acquire services or goods amounts to identity theft, and the actions are prosecutable under Penal Code 502.

Penal Code 502 violators face varying penalties depending on the charges levied against them. Misdemeanor charges are penalized with a jail term of no more than one year and/or a fine not exceeding $5,000. Felony offenders, on the other hand, risk facing up to three years behind bars and/or a fine of no more than $10,000. 

Any unauthorized access of government or bank systems with the aim of committing fraud is a federal computer access violation that too attracts hefty penalties. If convicted for a first-time offense, you are looking at 5 years in prison. A fine can also be added as a penalty as directed by the courts. Subsequent offenders risk facing a prison sentence of no more than ten years and/or a fine.    

Additional Consequences of an Identity Theft Conviction

While time behind bars and fines top the list of the implications of an identity theft conviction, other often overlooked aspects of life are affected. A conviction affects your gun rights and immigration status.
Convicted felons cannot own or possess guns. It, therefore, follows that a felony identity theft conviction takes away your rights to own or possess guns.

Immigrants too face an adverse effect on their immigration status if convicted of identity theft. California deports non-citizens involved in crimes of moral turpitude, fraud being one of them. Therefore, if convicted, you risk being deported and marked as inadmissible in the US.  

Legal Defences to Identity Theft Charges

Hiring an attorney is your best bet at fighting identity theft charges. Your attorney will use either of the following defenses.

  • No Willful Intent

You can only be found guilty of identity theft if you deliberately obtained another’s personal information. Lack of willful intent increases the chances of a not guilty verdict. Therefore, your attorney can argue that you obtained the information by accident. 

  • Purpose of Obtaining the Information Was Not Unlawful

A guilty verdict is issued if the defendant obtains the identifiable information for any unlawful purpose. In some cases, the victim may assume the intention was illegal, and from that premise, you face identity theft charges. You could have obtained the information for analysis, comparison to advise the victim, or any other legal reason as detailed by your attorney.

  • You Had No Intentions to Defraud   

Prosecutors could introduce fraud as the aim of your actions as proof in their quest to have you convicted. Your attorney can show that your intentions were not to defraud as a defense to the prosecution’s argument.  

  • False Accusation

It is not uncommon for defendants to fall victim to being falsely accused of identity theft. The financial industry faces the challenge of their customers accusing their ex-partners of identity theft to avoid their debt obligations. Such is the story of some who face criminal charges based on a false accusation report filled by a disgruntled ex-partner. If you face similar circumstances, your attorney can introduce this argument in your defense. 

Related Offenses to Identity Theft

Certain violations are similar to Identity theft. It is worth understanding these violations as prosecutors are known to introduce them as extra charges. They include:

  • Forgery.
  • False Impersonation.
  • Theft by false pretense.

Forgery, Penal Code 470 

To be prosecuted for forgery, you must have signed a document using another’s names and signature to assume their identity. There are five ways forgery is committed, namely:

  • Falsifying or altering certain documents
  • Signing a document with another’s name without their approval
  • Falsifying or changing a legal document
  • Counterfeiting a seal and/or
  • Using another’s handwriting to create an impression that the document originated from them

Most common documents subject to forgery cases include property deeds, school certificates, contracts, money orders, checks, share certificates, and contracts. 

Penal Code 470 requires prosecutors to prove three elements in their case against you. 

  • You committed either of the forgery activities as mentioned above
  • You intended to defraud the victim — Prosecutors could argue that you lied to the victim to deprive him/her of their property or money. It is worth noting that intent is enough to show guilt even if the victim did not suffer any loss.

Forgery is a wobbler offense in California. You can be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony offense, and the penalties vary. Prosecutors pursue misdemeanor charges for offenders who forged documents, and the possible loss of their actions would not exceed $950. If convicted, offenders risk facing summary probation, one year in jail, and a possible fine not exceeding $1,000. Felony offenders, on the other hand, must have forged documents, and their actions could have led to a loss exceeding $950. If convicted, felony offenders risk prison time not exceeding three years, formal probation if no prison time is to be served, and a possible fine not exceeding $10,000.

It is worth noting that prosecutors have a fixed duration to introduce forgery charges against you as provided for in the Statute of Limitations. Felony charges can only be pursued no more than four years after the commission of the crime, while for misdemeanor forgery charges, the period is capped at one year. 

False Impersonation, Penal Code 529

Simply put, impersonation is assuming another’s identity. It becomes a crime under Penal Code 529 when your actions are meant to defraud another, cause them harm, or gain an unfair advantage. While the definition may give a glimpse of the charges you may face, prosecutors must prove specific aspects of the case for a conviction. Prosecutors must prove that you committed additional acts beyond impersonating another that translated to a benefit to you or a disadvantage to the victim. The following, according to Penal Code 529, are considered the additional acts.

  • Posting bail or surety in court in the name of another
  • Your actions exposed the individual you impersonated to criminal or civil liability or loss. For example, providing another person’s driver’s license when stopped for speeding, or
  • Serving, verifying, acknowledging, or publishing a written document in another’s name. For example, cashing in a check meant for the individual you impersonated.

Violations of Penal Code 529 are either misdemeanors or felonies. You would serve summary probation or one year behind bars if convicted for a misdemeanor violation. You risk also parting with fines amounting to $10,000. Felony convictions, on the other hand, are penalized with formal probation or three years behind bars. You also risk parting with $10,000 in fines. 

Theft by False Pretense, Penal Code 532

Convincing someone to voluntarily give up their property by deceiving them is a violation of Penal Code 532. Convincing another to transfer the property to you while pretending to compensate them in the future when you do not intend to keep that promise seems like a harmless action. However, the action is a crime under Penal Code 532.

Your intentions and actions matter for a conviction. Prosecutors need to prove that you misled the victims by offering false information or giving promises you had no intention of honoring. They should provide written communication from you to the alleged victim or testimonies from witnesses who were present or knew of your alleged actions. Further, prosecutors should prove that your actions were designed to entice the victims to give you their property freely. However, it should be clear that the victim relied on the information you provided and willingly offered their property to you based on that information. 

If the prosecution proves its case, you could face petty or grand theft penalties. Petty theft penalties include a fine of no more than $1,000 and/or a six-month jail term. These penalties are levied if the property’s value in the case does not exceed $950. The property should also not be a firearm, car, certain agricultural products, or livestock. Therefore, if the property’s value exceeds $950, is a firearm, or a car, you will be subjected to a prison sentence of either 16 months, two, or three years, penalties levied against grand theft offenders.

Find a Reliable Identity Theft Criminal Defense Near Me

Criminal cases have a lasting implication. The penalties coupled with a criminal record complicate your future. You, therefore, need a criminal defense team whose efforts will ensure the best possible outcome. With an experienced attorney handling your identity theft case, you are better placed at having the best legal outcome. Our team is committed to offering you the best representation and advice. Therefore, if you or your loved one faces identity theft charges in Pasadena, CA, contact The Law Offices of Fountain & Hattersley at 626-793-4111.