Police in San Diego are searching for two people believed to be involved in an ongoing identity theft case. According to reports, four people were spotted on multiple surveillance cameras making purchases with credit cards that had been reported stolen by its owner. The owner claims that she either lost the cards or that they were stolen while she was shopping in late January. It is a crime to use another person’s identity for an unlawful or fraudulent purpose. Using stolen credit cards to make purchases is just one way that the crime of identity theft can be committed.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft can be broadly defined to mean taking another person’s identifying information without their consent and intending to use it for a fraudulent purpose. California Penal Code Section 530.5 PC describes four distinct types of identity theft:
Stealing Identification to Commit an Unlawful Act: Willfully obtaining the personal identifying information of another person for any unlawful purpose (e.g., obtaining or trying to obtain credit, goods, services, real property, or medical information);
Taking or Keeping Identification to Commit Fraud: Acquiring or retaining possession of another person’s personal identifying information with the intent to commit fraud;
Selling or Transferring Identification to Commit Fraud: Selling, transferring, or otherwise providing the personal identifying information of another person with the intent to commit a fraud; and
Selling or Transferring Identification With Knowledge of Fraud: Selling, transferring, or otherwise providing the personal identifying information of another person with knowledge that it will be used to commit fraud.
In simpler terms, it is an act of identity theft to obtain, acquire, retain, sell, or transfer another person’s personal identifying information without consent for an unlawful purpose.
Consent of the Owner
In order to be an act of identity theft, the person whose personal information you are using must not have given permission. This means that you cannot be convicted of identity theft if your friend or roommate hands you their credit card and gives you permission to use it. You would face charges, however, if you sneak the card out of their wallet without their knowledge and go on a shopping spree.
Obtain or Attempt to Obtain
It is an act of identity theft to use the personal identifying information of another person to obtain or attempt to obtain property or services. This means that even if your attempt to purchase goods with a stolen credit card is unsuccessful, you can still face criminal charges for identity theft. The attempt to commit the crime is sufficient to warrant criminal charges.
Commonly Stolen Forms of Personal Identification
What kind of personal identification, when stolen, can warrant criminal charges for identity theft? Commonly stolen forms of personal identification include:
- Name and address
- Date of birth
- Social Security Number
- Telephone numbers
- Tax identification numbers
- Driver’s license numbers
- Bank account information
- Credit card information
- Passport information, and
- Birth and death certificates.
Penalties for Identity Theft
Identity theft is a wobbler in California, which means that you can face either misdemeanor or felony charges for the crime. The type of the charge you face will depend on:
- The value of property stolen
- The degree of harm suffered by any victim, and
- Your criminal record.
Misdemeanor Identity Theft: Punishable by a maximum of one year in jail and $1,000 in fines.
Felony Identity Theft: Punishable by a maximum of three years in prison and $10,000 in fines.
In addition to these penalties, you may also be required to complete a term of probation and pay restitution to your victim(s).
Defending Charges of Identity Theft
If you have been accused of identity theft it is important to defend yourself against any criminal charges. Hiring an attorney handle your criminal defense will increase the chances of securing a positive outcome in your case. Your attorney will argue any defense that helps to explain or justify your actions, including:
- Lack of unlawful purpose
- Mistaken belief you had permission to use the identifying information, and
- False accusations.
Contact the San Diego theft crimes attorneys at the Law Office of Vikas Bajaj, APC today to request a free consultation with our team. We will thoroughly review your case, explain your rights as a criminal defendant, and answer the questions you have. A conviction can have lifelong consequences, so it is important to fight for your future. Call us today to learn more.