As the world evolves further into the digital age with everything from financial transactions to sending documents over the internet, identity theft opportunities are more common than ever before.
Like other theft crimes, Texas treats identity theft as a serious offense. As such, the crime of identity theft can take several different forms. Because of this, someone accused of an identity theft crime will quickly find himself or herself in a complicated minefield.
While some may believe that identity theft is limited to stealing someone’s credit card or social security number, such action forms the basis for several different types of information theft. Stealing someone’s information can open up the door to more than an identity theft accusation. If an individual were to find or steal someone else’s wallet with the intent to use their credit or debit cards, forge a check or engage in some other type of financial transaction, they could face charges including identity theft, credit card abuse, forgery, fraud and more.
What are the different types of identity theft?
While the most common types of identity theft we hear about on the nightly news or the latest newspaper article involve a stolen social security number to obtain a loan, or racking up thousands of dollars in merchandise on a stolen credit card, there are lesser known forms of identity theft that carry criminal penalties ranging from a year in jail to more than 20 years in prison. For instance, creating a false email address or social media profile to access someone’s information is considered identity theft and a Class A misdemeanor crime, which carries up to a year in jail; while using Grandma’s social security number to obtain a credit card could result in a State Jail Felony, where the potential for two years in State Jail . The number of pieces of information in your possession also impact the penalty rage. As you can see, these crimes become complex in short order.
The following are different types of identity theft:
- Fraudulent use of someone’s personal information
- Stealing, or unauthorized acquisition, of financial information
- Neglecting a business duty to protect sensitive information
- Breaching a computer’s security to access an electronic system or database
- Online impersonation of another individual
- Impersonating a public servant
What is the law on identity theft in Texas?
In Texas, it’s illegal to obtain and/or misuse (or simply have the intent to misuse) someone else’s personal or financial data, including but not limited to social security number, credit or debit card information, bank information, address, or their name. Using any of this information for an economic benefit, no matter how it was obtained, is be considered identity theft.
Under Texas Penal Code 31.17, the unauthorized acquisition or transfer of certain financial information through electronic, photographic, visual imaging, recording, or other devices capable of reproducing or storing this information in any manner is a criminal offense and can result in a Class B misdemeanor. Whereas transferring that information to a third-party makes it a Class A misdemeanor.
While the obtaining or transferring financial information qualifies as a misdemeanor offense, fraudulent use or possession of identifying information often carries more severe charges. In Texas, fraudulent use or possession can be considered a felony offense, even if no money was stolen and no purchases were made. The punishment for possession such information is directly tied to the number of items you possess, and the age of the victim – possessing more than 50 items of someone under 65 is a Second Degree felony, whereas if they are over 65, you could face a First Degree felony charge (and face up to 99 years in prison) while possessing more than 50 pieces of information for folks under 65 could be a Second Degree Felony and result in no more than 20 years in prison. Things become even more complex is some of the items belong to someone over 65, and others to individuals under 65.
What are the federal laws on identity theft?
Is identity theft a federal crime? Many folks are unaware that they can face conviction and punishment of a federal crime for identity theft. Under the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998, identity theft is listed as a federal crime. As a result, criminal penalties for identity theft and fraud increased and the crime carries a maximum penalty of 15 years imprisonment, along with the substantial fines. In case you were wondering, a federal conviction is much more severe than a state conviction, and you end up serving significantly more of your sentence in federal prison than the state jail.
What are the potential penalties of identity theft crimes?
Though there are several types of identity theft crimes, all of them are considered crimes of moral turpitude. Crimes of moral turpitude often lead to distrust of an individual from various entities, presenting effects that last beyond the length of a jail sentence. A conviction involving a crime of moral turpitude could prevent you from obtaining a license, such as to be an electrician, or result in your deportation if you are not a U.S. Citizen.
Penalties for identity theft will vary depending on the circumstances surrounding the crime. An individual facing identity theft charges in Texas can face jail or prison time and fines, including:
Jail or Prison time: A conviction for an identity theft crime can result in a significant jail or prison sentence. Generally, a conviction such as a misdemeanor offense might result in spending up to a year in jail, while a felony offense can result in several or more years in prison. The circumstances surrounding the offense will weigh heavily on this result.
Fines: If convicted for identity theft, fines are commonly issued by the court. The fine will depend on the charges and conviction, but an individual could pay thousands of dollars in fines alone.
Probation: In some cases, especially for first-time offenders of misdemeanor crimes, probation might be ordered rather than a jail sentence. In some cases, probation could be issued in addition to a jail sentence. Probation could last a year or more and will typically entail loss of freedoms as terms and conditions are set by the court.
Restitution: An individual convicted of identity theft might be forced to pay restitution to victims if a restitution order is issued by the court. The amount of restitution required will depend on the court award.
What other potential punishment can result from this type of crime?
Individuals accused of identity theft not only have to worry about state or federal punishment as the result of criminal charges, but they could also face civil lawsuits from those affected by the crime. Victims at the center of an identity theft crime are likely to feel angry or upset, which could sometimes lead to lawsuits against the individual accused.
Being charged with identity theft should not be taken lightly. If convicted, an individual could spend time in jail or prison, pay significant fines and restitution, and their criminal record will be scarred with the crime of moral turpitude, which can leave lasting effects long after time has been served. If you or someone you know has been accused of identity theft, don’t hesitate to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side immediately.