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What is the crime of identity theft?

Identity theft refers to a plethora of separate instances of fraud wherein someone who was not authorized to do so obtains and uses someone else's personal data, usually for economic gain.

In the wrong hands, a credit card, bank account or Social Security number can be used by someone to establish a complete financial identity based on another's personal data. Exorbitant debts that are impossible to pay off can be run up before the alleged victim even becomes aware of the duplicity. Future and present jobs can be jeopardized due to a tarnished financial profile. Obtaining a car loan or mortgage can be impossible until the matter is straightened out, which in some cases can take many years.

Because of this, in 1998, Congress made identity theft a federal offense with the passage of the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act. It prohibits "knowingly transfer[ring] or us[ing], without lawful authority, [the] identification of another person with the intent to commit, aid or abet any unlawful activity."

The Department of Justice uses different federal statutes in the prosecution of identity theft cases. A defendant can face up to 15 years in prison, along with fines and forfeiture of personal property, if convicted of identity theft.

Other statutes that might be violated involved those prohibitions against mail and computer fraud, as well as credit card fraud. Some defendants can wind up with up to three decades of jail time.

Prosecutors work closely with federal agencies like the Secret Service, United States Postal Inspection Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to build substantial cases against those facing such charges.

If charged with identity theft by federal authorities, it's important to secure representation by a criminal defense attorney who has experience in the federal court system.

Source: The U.S. Department of Justice, "Identity Theft," accessed Sep. 02, 2015

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