Identity theft is the crime of obtaining and using someone else’s personal or financial information in order to assume that person’s name or identity to make purchases. Information that is usually targeted in an identity theft case includes the person’s name and date of birth, bank account information, credit card information, or other personal contact information (address, email address, phone number). For example, someone who steals your card and signs your name for all purchases, or files a fraudulent tax return with your name, is committing identity theft. Identity theft can damage your credit, impact your finances and can even affect your criminal record.
ID theft can also refer to the theft of one’s actual physical identification card (driver’s license or social security card). This typically occurs as the initial step in trying to steal the person’s identity. Medical identity theft can also occur (when the thief uses your identity to get healthcare). Be on alert if you receive a medical bill for treatment you don’t remember getting.
Identity theft has become a major issue now that personal information is stored on computers and online. For instance, if someone’s laptop is stolen and the victim’s financial information is stored on the computer, the criminal can easily access this information. In these cases, the perpetrator poses as the victim. Some cases of stolen identity, such as elderly identity theft and child identity theft, are more common because the victims are often defenseless.
How Can Your Identity Be Stolen?
Criminals can obtain personal information to steal one’s identity in any number of ways, including:
- Robbery: Physically stealing one’s personal information, such as their driver’s license, social security card, credit cards, etc.
- Mail Theft: Stealing someone’s mail, including their bank statements, credit card statements, or pre-approved credit card offers.
- Dumpster Diving: Rummaging through one’s trash to find documents containing one’s personal or financial information.
- Computer Fraud: Hacking into computer systems that contain identification information. This has become more prominent with the prevalence of the world wide web.
- Phishing: Scamming information by posing as a legitimate business.
What are the Penalties for Identity Theft?
Identity theft is a federal offense that has criminal penalties. A person who is convicted of identity theft can face any of the following penalties:
- Restitution to the victim
- Forfeiture of any personal property used to commit the crime
- Punishment for any corresponding crimes, such as mail fraud or credit card fraud
What If You are the Victim of Identity Theft?
If you think that your identity has been stolen, call the police. The police can help find the perpetrator and determine whether there is sufficient evidence for the District Attorney’s office to prosecute the person who committed the crime. You should also immediately call your credit card company and your bank to inform them of the theft. It may be necessary for you to freeze or close your bank account and cancel your credit cards.
Can I Sue Someone for Identity Theft?
If your identity has been stolen, it can cause damage your credit and make you financially liable for fraudulent charges if not reported quickly. But once you file a police report, you should act quickly to protect yourself from any issues with the credit company or if the police find the person who stole your identity. For this reason, you may wish to hire a criminal lawyer. Your attorney can advise you on your legal rights, can represent you in court, and help you ensure that the criminal faces penalties for his theft.