Identity theft is the wrongful and illegal collection or use of someone else’s personal data with the intent to commit a crime—typically credit card fraud, bank fraud, or another white collar crime. With all of the legal nuances and the physical and electronic paper trails involved, it helps to seek the aid of a Maryland federal identity theft lawyer when a person finds themselves facing serious charges.
Federal identity theft and fraud cases are handled by the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, with locations in both Baltimore and Greenbelt. Although US attorneys boast an astonishing conviction rate, there are viable and effective strategies available for your defense. An experienced federal defense attorney in Maryland can help right away.
“Identity theft” is a relatively new term. In fact, although “false impersonation” and other acts of fraud have been illegal for years, it was not until the late 1990s with the passage of the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998 that identity theft became a federal offense.
Prior to identity theft being made a federal crime in and of itself, these acts were prosecuted as if only the banks or financial institutions involved were victims of the fraud. In other words, if a person appropriated personally identifying information and obtained a loan in their name, the bank issuing the loan would be considered a victim of bank fraud—they would be just a hapless pawn in the scheme.
Under the new identity theft statutes, federal legislators recognize that the person whose identity has been stolen is also a victim, often spending thousands of dollars and enduring countless hours trying to repair damaged credit reports. Identity theft may be simple or complex, from “card present” fraud in which a person attempts to use another’s credit card without permission, to sophisticated hacking attempts on retailers and financial institutions. If a person has been charged or believe that they may be under investigation for identity theft, seeking out a Maryland federal identity theft lawyer is a prudent decision.
The aforementioned Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998 was the first federal act of legislation pertaining to identity theft as a specific federal offense. The Act amended 18 US Code Section 1028 to include as a federal crime the “[knowing] transfer or use, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable state or local law.”
In 2004, the United States enacted the Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act, which established aggravated identity theft as a federal offense.
Four years later, Congress passed the Identity Theft Enforcement and Restitution Act of 2008 to allow restitution for not only direct financial losses associated with identity theft, but also the financial resources a victim spends in trying to rectify their accounts and credit report and “such other factors as the court deems appropriate.”
Penalties for identity theft vary depending on specific details of the case and the number of fraud charges against the defendant. Identity theft is punishable by a maximum of 15 years in prison. Aggravated identity theft, or using another person’s identification in the commission of a felony, is punishable by two years in prison in addition to the sentence for the underlying felony.
The United States Sentencing Commission issues sentencing guidelines for determining an appropriate sentence for a specific offense. Looking at the factors of the offense, the USSC issues a “base level” for the offense and increases the penalties in the presence of certain aggravating factors. In most cases, an act of fraud that carries a maximum penalty of less than 20 years in prison is given a base level of six. If a person has no prior criminal history, they will likely be sentenced to 0-6 months in prison for fraud. However, the USCC acknowledges the economic and non-economic impact to a person whose identity has been misappropriated and used in a financial crime, and gives identity theft a base level of 12, doubling the likely sentence without any other aggravating factors.
This is in addition to the penalties for any felonies committed or attempted using the stolen identity:
Being found in possession of counterfeit credit cards, obtaining personally identifying data and financial information for illicit use or resale, and other acts of identity theft are prosecuted vigorously and punished severely. The sooner a person seeks the counsel of an aggressive Maryland federal identity theft lawyer, the quicker they will be able to work with the person to try and to help defend them from these steep fines and lengthy prison terms.