Identity theft cases strike most of us as incredibly heinous crimes, as they involve the theft of more than just money, or possessions, but they feel like violations of the most basic privacy rights afforded to citizens. As the Department of Justice recounts on its website, there was one particularly heinous incident that drove this fact home more than any other, in which an individual stole $100,000 of his victim's money through identity theft, and then spent it all…and then called up his victims to tell them that he could keep doing it, because identity theft was not a federal crime yet.
In order to correct this, identity theft charges came into being in 1998, with the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act. The act specifically created a new charge which could be implemented against criminals, a charge of identity theft, as differentiated from identity fraud. Prior to this, however, identity fraud had been the primary charge.
The difference between the two is that in identity fraud cases, the individual is being charged with having used another's identity in a fraudulent way, whereas in identity theft cases, the defendant is charged with simply stealing the identity with intent to use it in a fraudulent way. In other words, the Act separated stealing the identity from actually using the identity, in order to increase the overall severity of identity theft charges.
Identity theft charges carry "a maximum term of 15 years' imprisonment, a fine, and criminal forfeiture of any personal property used or intended to be used to commit the offense," according to the Department of Justice. Such a penalty is clearly quite stiff, and makes identity theft cases all the more serious. As an example, in the Central District of California, a man was sentenced 27 months' imprisonment after being assigned identity theft charges for having obtained private bank account information and used it to make a tremendous amount of money.
But many other examples of successfully prosecuted identity theft cases also show that such cases can involve other charges, as well, such that identity theft charges may be the least of the defendants' worries.
Identity theft charges can be brought by both the federal government, often in the form of the Federal Trade Commission, and by state or local law enforcement agencies, which can have different penalties attached to those charges. But the main point of all of this is that identity theft charges are very serious, and will be pursued to the fullest extent of the law. Those who perpetrate identity theft will no longer get away with it, or be able to hide behind a lack of adequate legislation; they will now face the full penalty for their crimes.