Are U.S. Identity Theft Laws Too Lenient?

by Ladyblogger on June 22, 2012

Modern technology has made it easier than ever for someone’s identity to be stolen. In 2011 alone there was a thirteen percent increase in the number of identity theft incidents reported to law enforcement. This type of spike would make some people think that the repercussions for the crime mustn’t be too stringent or it wouldn’t be on the rise. Whether or not U.S. laws on the matter are too lenient is a subjective matter, but recent legislation that increases penalties for the crime may tilt the scales to the “nay” side.

Federal Laws

Anyone who is prosecuted by the United States government for identity theft will likely need a very good criminal defense team. The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act makes possessing another’s identification with the purpose of unlawful use a federal crime. This would seem to give the Justice Department jurisdiction over all possible identity related offenses, but that is not always case. For federal prosecutors to indict the person who committed the crime that person must have either used an ID issued by the national government, used the U.S. Postal Service for the fraud, affected interstate or foreign commerce, or defrauded or attempted to defraud the U.S. government.

The federal government imposes several harsh penalties on criminals who commit identity theft. Depending on the circumstances of a case a person can be sentenced between five and thirty years in a federal institution. Thousands of dollars worth of fines can also be imposed on the accused.

In a bid to make identity crimes less likely to occur President George W. Bush signed the Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act into law in 2004. The legislation imposes even harsher penalties on those convicted of identity theft. The law takes away a judge’s discretion in sentencing a person to probation or even concurrent sentences. It also allows courts to combine all counts against a defendant into a single case. Since identity theft resulting in less than a one-thousand dollar loss isn’t punishable by more than one year in jail the ability to combine all counts makes it more likely a defendant will receive a harsh sentence.

State Laws

State laws regarding identity theft can vary significantly. All states have laws against the offense, and most states even charge the incident as a felony which often guarantees more than a year-long prison sentence. California also passed a statute requiring any company that experiences a data breach to report the breach to all of their customers. This allows anyone whose personal information may have been compromised to change whatever information they need to protect themselves. Many states followed suit with California and now most companies that experience this type of breach immediately notify their customers.

If a crime falls under the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act the U.S. government isn’t the only one that can prosecute. States can charge a defendant in conjunction with the federal charges. This means that if a person commits any type of identity fraud in Florida they could face up to ten years per count in the state in addition to whatever the U.S. government imposes. So your criminal lawyer Orlando is going to have a full plate if his client manages to violate the federal law in the commission of their crime.

Even with stricter identity theft laws in America there were still over 11.6 million adult victims of the crime in 2011. Penalties associated with stealing someone’s identity are going to vary by state, but if a person manages to get the United States government involved there is likely to be no leniency granted to them. As mentioned before, whether or not laws are too lenient on people engaging in identity fraud is subjective, but in Federal cases it would seem that the answer is increasingly ‘no’.

Molly Henshaw is a law student and contributing writer for the defense team of Katz&Phillips. She recommends consulting an attorney when you are faced with identity theft.

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