Identity Theft Punishment and Penalties, Federal and State Laws
With more than 10 million victims per year in the U.S. alone, identity theft is considered one of the most serious crimes in the country. It's a crime that not only targets your finances, but your financial reputation. Years of built-up credit can be wiped away in a matter of hours, and it can take years to rebuild. Like many other crimes, identity theft also has a huge lingering impact both sociologically and emotionally.
Because of its proliferation over the past few years, most U.S. states have implemented laws that are aimed at punishing fraudsters. On a federal level, President George W. Bush was compelled to sign a law called the Identity Theft Penalty Act that requires harsher punishments for perpetrators of the crime. Though these laws may not be the ultimate deterrents, we can only hope that it makes criminals think twice before they decide it's a good day to commit fraud.
It was a landmark step in identity theft prosecution when the Identity Theft Penalty Act was signed in 2004. It changed some degrees of punishment from a mere slap on the wrist to actual federal prison time. It also escalated what was considered just a misdemeanor to a felony on a federal level. Finally, victims were getting the bittersweet justice they deserved.
- Increase of Maximum Sentence - The act immediately elevates the maximum federal prison sentence from just three to five years.
- Additional Time for Phishing - For those found guilty of phishing scams, there is an additional two years of jail time automatically added on top of the sentence.
- Aggravated Identity Theft- A new crime, "Aggravated Identity Theft," was added to the list of offenses. It is considered used when a person commits a crime using the stolen identity, such as mail fraud, acts of terrorism, or immigration fraud. Because of this new law, criminals may be charged with more than one offense, for Aggravated Identity Theft as well as Identity Theft. An additional two years is added to the sentence for Aggravated Identity Theft, and these sentences may not be carried out on probation.
- Abuse of Power - Anyone considered to be a person of trust, such as a manager or "insider," will pay additional penalties for the abuse of power.
- Terrorism an Additional Five Years – Under Aggravated Identity Theft, any terrorist-related offenses will incur an additional five years. There is a maximum sentence of 25 years for this offense, but will now apply to domestic crimes as well as international.
Though most states have their own versions of ID theft laws, they tend to vastly differ from state to state. Because identity theft isn't always a black and white issue, depending on the nature of the crime, most states will have a series of charges that range from fines to misdemeanors to varying classes of felony or any combination of these.
The most basic penalty a criminal can be given is compensation for any loss. For instance, if there was a financial loss, the criminal is ordered to pay back the loss plus any other damages and attorney fees incurred as a result of the crime.
If the nature of the crime is much more serious, then penalties can range anywhere from a $50,000 fine plus a maximum of five years in prison or a $100,000 fine plus a minimum of ten years in prison.
Each state imposes its own fines according to its jurisdiction, and depending on the state in which the crime is committed, this can affect the sentence given. But in the past few years, the punishments for such ID fraud crimes have gotten harsher, even on a state level. Visit your state's official website for specific information on the laws that pertain to your state.
How You Can Fight Back at Criminals
- It's a known fact that most people don't realize they've been a victim of identity theft until six months after the crime has occurred. One way to prevent this from happening is to stay on top of your finances and other personal information. Check account balances regularly and read statements thoroughly to make sure there isn't anything out of the norm.
- So many criminals get away with their crime because the victim has delayed in reporting it. If you suspect that you're a victim of ID theft, report it as soon as possible. The earlier it's detected, the better your chances of recouping any losses and finding the perpetrator. Contact the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) or FACTA , (Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act), which allows for free credit reports.
- As cliché as it may sound, simply don't give criminals the means to take your identity. Our growing dependence on the internet has fueled the identity theft market for years. While it’s difficult in today's society to decrease our internet use, one way to help prevent becoming a victim is to use the web wisely. Don’t give out too much information and make sure that you know who you're giving it out to.