Identity Theft is a crime where an identity thief steals the identification information of another person and uses the information to open credit accounts, wipe out the victim’s bank accounts or assume the victim’s identity for the purposes of appropriating health care or other services. There are other cases where identity theft is perpetrated, but these cases are the most common. Identity theft is epidemic in the U.S. With the growth of the Internet, identity thieves have the means and the opportunities to steal victims’ identities by hacking into their computers, intercepting their wireless connections and stealing their mail.
Identity Theft and the Law
Identity theft is a crime that is defined as individual stealing, transferring, using or possessing the identification of another person, and then using the identification in the commission of a felony state law or a violation of Federal law. Prosecutions of Identity Theft are rare because this statute was replaced in 2004 by a second statute that allows for more severe penalties. Additionally, the 2004 law adds the commission of terrorist offenses to the list of possible uses for the stolen identity.
Aggravated Identity Theft carries a minimum prison sentence of two years. Additionally, the sentences for Aggravated Identity Theft must be served consecutively if the offender is charged with more than one office. Many sentences for other crimes run concurrently, which means that if the offender is charged with two crimes, and one crime carries a sentence of two years and the other crime carries a sentence of three years, the offender will generally be sentenced to a maximum of three years. However, for Aggravated Identity Theft, each charge carries a mandatory two year sentence. If the offender is charged with two counts, he or she
will be required to serve a four-year sentence.
Identity Theft and the Consumer
Each year, many people find that they have been victimized by an identity thief. Identity theft can quickly damage a good credit rating and even wipe out the finances of a family. If you have been the victim of identity theft, you know the problems that are caused by this crime. Even if an identity thief simply gets a hold of one credit card, he or she can run up a huge balance in a matter of just a few days. If an identity thief opens a credit card account in your name, you probably will not even know about the unauthorized account for thirty days or more. The best way to guard against identity theft is to guard your personal information and all of your account information very diligently.
How to Protect Against Identity Theft
Be cautious when companies request your social security number. Most companies offer other ways to provide identifying information so that you do not have to use your social security number. For example, many companies ask that you set a PIN or an “access number” if you don’t want to use your social security number. Opt to use a number other than your SSN to identify your accounts.
Make sure that all forms with your personal information are concealed, even from those you know. Keep personal data and identification forms under lock and key. Never just throw old bills, pre-approved credit card applications, or anything that may list your personal information in the trash. Make sure to shred any paper with personal data printed on it.
Obtain a subscription for a credit monitoring service to keep tabs on your credit rating. Most credit monitoring services provide alerting options that will notify you if irregularities show up on your credit report. For example, if someone attempts to open a credit card in your name, or if one of your credit cards is used to charge a large balance, you are immediately notified.
Finally, use secure passwords for all online accounts, and refrain from accessing your bank account or other secure accounts from public WiFi spots. Your information is easily hacked by tech-savvy identity thieves on public networks.
note: The information contained in this post is not to be construed as legal advice. Please consult an attorney regarding any identity theft or legal issues.