Most peeople use personal identifying information to handle their banking, file taxes, and to access personal records. Because of the importance of personal identifying information, stealing someone else’s information can be treated as a serious criminal act.
In this articel, we go over the factors involved with this kind of theft by examining California Penal Code Section 530.5: Identity Theft. Learn more on the penalties for a conviction and options for legal defenses with our criminal defense attorneys at the Simmrin Law Group.
If You Are Charged With Identity Theft
Unless you have experience with the criminal justice system and identity theft law, it is in your best interest to seek legal advice if you are charged with identity theft. Any form of identity theft is criminal, but there are certain types that carry serious penalties.
Become familiar with your Miranda rights to ensure that you are not criminalizing yourself or hurting your defense voluntarily. While it is fully encouraged to cooperate with police, it is not recommended that you speak with them before retaining legal services.
Legally Defining Identity Theft in California
Penal Code Section 530.5 defines identity theft as the act of willfully getting the personal identifying information of another person and:
- Using their personal identifying information for an unlawful purpose without their consent
- Retaining the information while intending to commit fraud
- Selling or giving the information to someone else while intending to commit fraud
- Selling of giving the information to someone else while knowing it will be used fraudulently
Our identity theft lawyers explain identity theft as occuring when someone takes another person’s personal identifying information and uses it unlawfully, particularly in the commission of fraud.
What Is Considered as Personal Identifying Information
There are many different forms of information that can be considered “personal identifying information” in the state of California. Individuals could face identity theft charges for unlawfully acquiring the following I.D. numbers:
- Driver’s License
- Tax I.D.
- School I.D.
- Employee I.D.
- Social Security number
Additionally, financial information is often considered personal identifying information. Taking an individual’s bank account number or credit card information can lead to identity theft charges. Even something as simple as taking an individual’s address or date of birth for fraudulent use could be considered identity theft.
Reviewing the Penalties for a PC 530.5 Violation
PC 530.5 handles identity theft charges in the state court system of California. PC 530.5 can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending upon the defendant’s criminal history and the specific facts surrounding the case. Convictions can result in:
Misdemeanor PC 530.5 Convictions
- Fines: Up to $1,000
- Incarceration: Up to one year
Felony PC 530.5 Convictions
- Fines: Up to $10,000
- Incarceration: Up to three years
Note that these penalties can apply to each individual act of identity theft, even if multiple acts involved the same victim. You should also be aware that the state court system does not prosecute all identity theft cases in California.
Going Over Title 18 U.S.C. 1028
The federal court system prosecutes some acts of identity theft. Generally, individuals face federal charges for crimes that:
- Cross state or national borders
- Directly involve the government
- Deal with exceptionally high amounts of money
Title 18 U.S.C. § 1028 also allows the federal court system to prosecute other acts as identity theft. In fact, federal charges can be used against an individual who:
- Presents another person’s I.D.
- Steals or transfers an identification document
- Produces, possesses, or transfers tools used to make false identification documents
These actions must be completed knowingly for federal identity theft charges to apply. The penalties for a conviction in federal court are generally more severe than those in state court. A conviction for federal identity theft can lead to up to 30 years of prison time, for example.
Criminal Defenses for Identity Theft Charges
You can get help handling state or federal identity theft accusations by reaching out to a criminal defense lawyer. Getting professional help on your side quickly is important to building a strong defense if charged with violating PC 530.5. Your legal team can work to show that:
You Acquired Personal Identifying Information Without an Unlawful Purpose
Sometimes, people gather personal identifying information for legitimate reasons. Perhaps you gathered information about your aging parent to set up the medical care they needed. In this case, you weren’t planning to use their information unlawfully, and you could avoid PC 530.5 charges.
You Were Falsely Accused of Identity Theft
Identity theft charges can be made against innocent individuals in California. This could occur if someone else is committing identity theft and merely trying to pass the blame onto you. The purported victim could also blame you for identity theft to get out of paying their own debt.
Having the authorization to use someone else’s identity is a clear cut defense to have charges dropped. If you had permission of the person that you are being charged for impersonating, this presents a strong shield of protection for your case.
Violation of Rights
Improper seizing and searching is a violation of Fourth Amendment rights which states that police must have a warrant to perform a search. In order to prove identity theft, police must obtain a technology device, but it must first be approved by a judge.
Advice for Identity Theft Victims
In order to reduce the risk of being taken advantage of by identity thieves:
- Do not share personal information to strangers or people that you don’t trust
- Place personal documents and old credit cards through a shredder when disposing.
- Create complex passwords that only you would know
- Constantly surveillance your personal accounts for fraudulent activity
- Frequently verify credit report information
- Don’t use public wifi or shared networks when accessing sensitive information
- Stay educated on current scams and report suspicious activity
- If a data breach is reported, change your passwords immediately
If you are experiencing identity theft, the California’s Attorney General’s Officevictim’s checklist shares important resources and steps such as:
- Report your identity theft to Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian
- File a report with the police
- Contact your creditors to verify if any new accounts have been opened or authorized.
- Monitor your credit report
- Assess if freezing your credit is necessary
- Submit information on the California ID Theft Registry
- Clean your computer of spyware or malware technology and purchase protection software that sends alerts.
Get Help Dealing With Identity Theft Charges in California
California Penal Code Section 530.5: Identity Theft and Title 18 U.S.C. § 1028 charges can lead to high fines and incarceration. Stand up to identity theft accusations by attaining a criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles.
You can reach the Simmrin Law Group by completing our online contact form or calling to set up a free initial consultation regarding your case.