In California, a conviction on a charge of identity theft, also called "identity fraud," carries very serious and long-lasting consequences. The growing plague of identity theft crimes in the modern "Information Age" has made it all too easy for personal information to be stolen by electronic, long-distance means.

However, at Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we understand that it is all too easy to be falsely accused of identity theft and all too easy for the true identity thieves to hide themselves. If you or a loved one have been accused of committing identity theft, we can provide you with top legal defense and representation to maximize your chances in court.

Below, we introduce you to the basics of identity theft law in California so you can better understand what you are up against and how best to counter the charges being leveled against you.

What Is "Identity Theft?"

California Penal Code Section 530.5 defines identity theft as intentionally and illegally obtaining and keeping in your possession the personal ID information of another person. As such data is typically found on credit cards, checks, and important documents, identity theft is closely related to (but still distinct from) the crime of forgery.

Statute 530.5 names four general classes of identity theft:

  1. Subsection a covers the unauthorized use of someone else's personal information.
  2. Subsection b concerns itself with the illegal/fraudulent possession of personal information of another person.
  3. Subsection c deals with fraudulently selling and/or transferring (including electronically) other people's personal ID information.
  4. Subsection d covers involves the same selling/transfers of subsection c but adds the element of intending an unauthorized use.

Possible Punishments

In California, identity theft can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the details of the case and the defendant's past criminal record.

When charged as a misdemeanor, identity theft is punishable by a maximum one-year jail sentence and a maximum $1,000 fine.

As a felony, identity theft can be punished by 16 months to 3 years in state prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

In all cases, full restitution must be made to victims, and often, those convicted of identity theft will lose their present job, especially if the job involves handling sensitive information. Sometimes, probation/parole may be obtainable in place of jail/prison time.

Additionally, if you are also charged with a federal crime of identity theft, you could see huge fines and up to 30 years in federal prison, on top of any punishments stemming from California Penal Code violations.

Finally, note that each individual act of identity theft and each item stolen count as a separate crime, making it very common for "total sentences" to amass extremely high fines and very long prison terms.

Elements of the Crime

To gain a conviction on charges of identity theft, the prosecution must prove the following elements beyond reasonable doubt:

  1. The defendant did, in fact, access or possess the personal information of another person. This can be a name, address, social security number, date and place of birth, mother's maiden name, PIN number, login ID and/or password, account number, card number, employee ID, tax ID, driver's license number, and a host of other possible items.
  2. The defendant obtained said personal information "willfully." This need not imply any ill purpose nor taking steps to seek the information. It need only mean the willful accepting of personal information when encountered.
  3. The personal information was obtained and possessed unlawfully. Those authorized to access personal information cannot be charged so long as they did not store it or use it in an illegal manner.

Defense Strategies

There are a number of effective defense strategies that can defeat allegations of identity theft. Which one is best used will vary from case to case. 

First, it may be you never possessed the information in question. It was someone else who committed the crime, and you are the victim of a case of mistaken identity.

Or, it may be you had a lawful purpose in obtaining the information and/or lacked criminal/fraudulent intent in doing so.

Finally, if you opened a text message or email and saw someone's personal information inadvertently, you are not guilty of identity theft unless you proceeded to store and/or use that information.

Many times, people think they know who "the only other person" is who has access to their personal information and assume that person is guilty. It may, however, have been someone entirely different and whom they don't even know who did it.

At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we know how to find the weaknesses in the prosecution's case and win you a dismissal, acquittal, or if that is not possible, a reduced charge/sentence in a plea agreement.

Related Offenses

Almost always, an identity theft charge will be accompanied by one or more other related charges, which will bring additional punishments. Here are some of the most common:

  • Credit card fraud, which includes fraudulent possession/use of credit cards, debit cards, and associated account information.
  • Check fraud, which may involve forging a check, forging a signature, or altering an existing check.
  • False impersonation, meaning to pose as someone else in order to fraudulently obtain a benefit. This can happen online as well as in person.
  • Welfare, unemployment, or insurance fraud, when stolen information is used to fraudulently secure claim money.
  • Forgery of a driver's license, license plate, handicapped parking permit, and various other documents.
  • Grand theft, when the amount stolen by means of stolen personal information exceeds $950.
  • Senior fraud, when those over 65 are defrauded and have their identity stolen.

Contact Us Today

We at Los Angeles Criminal Attorney understand the fine details of California identity theft laws and know how to form the best possible defense for each particular type of identity theft case we handle. We will diligently apply our legal expertise and fight tenaciously to win you the best possible outcome to your case.

To learn more or for a free legal consultation on the details of your case, contact Los Angeles Criminal Attorney 24/7 at 424-333-0943.