Identity theft is a non-violent, white collar crime. It can lead to serious problems for the victim, both financially and legally. This is why legislators have created special laws to punish anyone found guilty of stealing the identity of another person.
Identity theft involves using the personal information or identification documents of another person to gain benefits of a financial or legal nature. Even accessing the private and confidential information of another person by using their ID is a crime.
Creating or selling the identification documents of another person or impersonating another to access their information is also considered identity theft.
The identity theft laws are covered under ILCS 720 5/16. A person commits identity theft when he or she knowingly,
- Uses any personal Identification information or personal ID of another person to fraudulently acquire credit, money, goods or other property.
- Uses personal information or identification document of another to commit any felony.
- Obtains, records, transfers, purchases, sells or otherwise manufactures personal ID or information of another person with intent to commit a felony.
- Obtains, transfers, purchases or manufactures personal information or ID of another with the knowledge that such documents are stolen.
- Transfers or possesses personal information and ID of another person with the knowledge that it will be used to commit any felony.
- Uses or presents personal information or ID of another to portray himself or herself as that person for gaining any benefits.
The consequences of Identity theft for the victim vary a great deal. Identity theft can result in losses of a few hundred dollars to millions of dollars for the affected person.
The punishment for identity theft is similarly varied as the effects of the crime.
First time offenders are charged with a Class 4 felony where the value of losses for the victim is less than $300. A repeat offender can be charged under Class 3 felony for identity theft involving a similarly low value.
Identity theft of money, goods, services or other property exceeding $300 but less than $2,000 will be charged as a Class 3 felony. Identity theft against an active duty member of the Armed Services or National Guard for a similar amount can be charged as a Class 2 felony.
Identity theft exceeding $2,000 but less than $10,000 is charged as a Class 2 felony. Identity theft of a similar amount committed against an active member of the Armed Services or National Guard can be charged as a Class 1 felony.
Identity theft exceeding $10,000 but less than $100,000 is a Class 1 felony except in cases where it is committed against an active duty member of Armed Services or National Guard where it can be charged as a Class X felony.
Identity theft of more than $100,000 is charged as a Class X felony.Considerations
Identity theft charges can be elevated to aggravated identity theft under certain circumstances.
- The offense is committed against a person who is 60 years old or disabled.
- The offense is committed to support the activities of an organized gang.
In most cases, aggravated identity theft increases the felony charge by one class.
Furthermore, a person convicted of facilitating identity theft or aggravated identity theft is liable to victim in a civil action lawsuit to pay for any damages suffered due to identity theft. Apart from the actual damages, the affected person may also recover court costs, attorney’s fees and any lost wages.
ID theft and wire fraud are also covered by the federal legislation. In a case where ID theft occurs across state lines, the case is usually taken up by the federal courts. The federal judges follow the law more closely when it comes to identity theft than the state based judges who are more lenient.Examples and Court Cases
There are genuine cases of identity theft that merit due legal action. However, we have also seen charged of identity theft brought forward against people merely on suspicion, without any credible evidence to back it.
An experienced prosecution office can turn mere allegations into a strong case get a conviction. The best defense that innocent people have is to get a good defense lawyer on their side. Consider the example of identity theft charges filed by the former country commissioner candidate Kimberly Laurie in 2017. She had filed a complaint in the Lake County Common Court that two people had sent out emails that appeared as if they were sent in her name while she was running her campaign for elections in 2016.
Laurie lost the elections in the Republican primary during that year. She had also accused the Republican party of intimidation and defamation by using the allegedly forged emails against her during the campaign.
Based on the reports, the emails were sent in February 2015 from what appeared to be Laurie’s email address. She claimed that she had not sent the emails out and blamed it as a conspiracy to malign the Republican Party against her.
The charges were questioned in court by the defendants’ attorney who argued that Laurie’s claims were baseless. Lack of concreted evidence from the prosecution led to the charges being dropped during the trial.
In a different case, the federal jury found a man guilty of aggravated identity theft in February 2018.
Keith Offord 24 had been charged with creating fake IDs by stealing people’s names, birth dates and Social Security Numbers. Offord used to add photographs of his co-schemer to the fake IDs and then take the person to stores to obtain credit accounts and cards that would be used to purchase items.
The man could be punished for up to 30 years in prison for bank fraud and Identity theft. The sentencing will take place in June 2018.Possible Legal Defenses
The main element of identity theft is the intent to use the information for monetary benefit. The prosecution’s case also relies on strong evidence and witness testimony.
This opens up a number of possibilities for defense.
The defendant can argue that they lacked the knowledge about the false nature of the identification documents and acted in good faith when submitting the documents.
The defendant may also argue that they lacked the intent to personally profit from the transaction that took place due to the identity theft. Both these defenses rely on the behavior of the accused at the time when the false documents were used.
The defendant may also challenge the evidence or witness testimony. Creating reasonable doubt about the key piece of evidence can severely compromise the prosecution’s case.
Identity theft covers a wide range of charges and the right strategy depends on the circumstances of each individual case.