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Identity Theft

There Are Laws to Protect You

The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998 makes it a federal crime when someone:

"Knowingly transfers or uses, 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."

 

Under this act, a person's name, social security number, credit card number, cellular telephone electronic serial number, or any other piece of information that may be used alone or in conjunction with other information to identify a specific individual is considered a "means of identification".

Violations of the Act are investigated by federal law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Secret Service, the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Social Security Administration's Office of the Inspector General. Federal identity theft cases are prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice. In most instances, a conviction for identity theft carries a maximum penalty of 15 years imprisonment, a fine and forfeiture of any personal property used or intended to be used to commit the crime.

Schemes to commit identity theft or fraud also may involve violations of other statutes, such as credit card fraud, computer fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, financial institution fraud, or social security fraud. Each of these federal offenses is a felony and carries substantial penalties - in some cases, as high as 30 years in prison, fines and criminal forfeiture.

Many states have passed laws to protect you against identity theft; others may be considering such legislation. Contact your State Attorney General's office (click for California) or local consumer protection agency to find out whether your state has laws related to identity theft, or visit www.consumer.gov/idtheft.

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