Virginia Federal Identity Theft Attorney
Identity theft refers to any type of act in which an individual fraudulently or illegally obtains another person’s private identifying information to use for their own monetary or other gain, without the consent of the victim. A few examples of identity theft include taking someone’s personal information without permission and using it to fraudulently open a credit card account or to make unauthorized withdrawals from their bank account or other financial accounts.
Federal prosecutors use identity theft statutes to bring criminal cases against those suspected of this offense in United States District Court. If convicted, the penalties associated with federal identity theft can be severe. Anyone who is accused of or who is being investigated for these federal charges in Virginia should retain a well-qualified, Virginia federal identity theft lawyer.
Methods of Allegation
There are numerous alleged methods of obtaining personal information, without authorization, to use for financial or other personal gain. An experienced Virginia identity theft lawyer can help someone to understand the allegations against them. The following are some commonly alleged methods of identity theft in federal court:
- Accusations of “shoulder surfing,” or looking over someone’s shoulder when they use an ATM or eavesdropping when they give out personal information in an in-person conversation or over the phone
- Alleged “dumpster diving,” or seeking out discarded mail or account statements and using the information gathered in an unauthorized manner to impersonate another person
- Allegations of “spamming,” which means calling or sending emails under false pretenses in order to elicit a response that includes personal information and then using that information in an authorized manner
- Allegations of internet hacking, which can take place on a small scale with only one email account hacked, or on a very large scale involving the computer systems of large retail chains or financial institutions
Utilization of Information
Once someone has obtained another person’s identifying information without their consent, there are numerous fraudulent ways for such information to be used. For example:
- “True name” fraud, which involves falsely opening an account in the victim’s name
- “Account takeover” fraud, when someone makes fraudulent charges on another person’s existing account or otherwise accesses their funds
- Giving a false identity to law enforcement
- Selling someone else’s personal information to third-party individuals or organizations. This is frequently alleged in relation to large scale internet hacking operations
If someone has questions about what such allegations and schemes mean for your case, a Virginia federal identity theft defense lawyer can explain in further detail.
Federal Identity Theft Law
In 1998, Congress amended the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act, to make it a federal criminal offense to knowingly use or transfer any form of identification of another person with the intent to commit unlawful activity. Federal law also provides for enhanced penalties if certain aggravating factors are present during identity theft. A person can be convicted of aggravated identity theft if the government proves the accused committed identity theft during the commission of certain statutory, enumerated felony offenses, such as mail or wire fraud, embezzlement, theft of government funds or benefits, claims of false citizenship or passport, false statements to obtain a firearm, any act of terrorism, and more.
Potential penalties for those convicted of federal identity theft are based, in part, on the amount of money or property that was alleged to have been stolen. Those convicted of identity theft in excess of $1,000 in US currency or property may face up to 15 years in prison, a hefty fine, and restitution to the victims.
Those convicted of identity theft involving less than $1,000, may face up to five years in prison in addition to possible fines and restitution. As with all federal criminal offenses, the Voluntary US Sentencing Guidelines will present the judge with a recommended range of options, including probation, incarceration, a suspended sentence, or a split sentence involving both.
Ultimately sentencing will be determined solely by the presiding judge. A person convicted of aggravated identity theft may also face enhanced penalties under the federal statute. By statute, a person convicted of aggravated identity theft is not eligible for probation.