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Los Angeles Identity Theft Defense Lawyer

Have you been charged with identity theft? This is an area of criminal law that has been expanding significantly over the past decades, in large part because of the proliferation of internet scams and similar activities. Simply stated, identity theft involves using the personal information of another individual or entity to illegally obtain loans, credit, cash, or other things of value.

The scope of the identity theft statute, PC 530.5 (and the sections that follow it), is broad. Briefly stated, it consists of obtaining “personal identifying information” of another and using that information to obtain money or other value, to commit a crime, or to engage in a variety of acts related to fraud or attempted fraud. The definition of PIN is likewise broad, and includes names, addresses, telephone numbers, tax i.d. numbers, name of your employer, your mother’s birth name, bank account numbers, voiceprints, and more.

Examples of Identity Theft and Related Crimes

Identity theft in California covers a lot of territory, and may include, among other acts, the following:

  • Credit card fraud. Use of the credit or debit card of another person without authorization.
  • Fraudulently obtaining PIN of another person.
  • Misuse of the social security number of someone else.
  • Theft of checks. This could lead to the forging of bad checks, and theft of money from another person’s account, among other acts.
  • This usually involves (online) scams to trick a person into providing information such as a bank account number.
  • Senior identity scams.
  • Tax fraud identity theft. Filing a false return under someone else’s name to obtain a refund.

While the number of examples of possible identity theft continues to expand with technology, the essence of the offense is the same: obtaining private or confidential information, and fraudulently using that information in order to obtain money or anything of value.

Penalties for Identity Theft

The penalties for identity theft are both broad and severe. For example, willfully obtaining the personal identifying information of another individual and using it for “any unlawful purpose” is a wobbler. The statute says that if convicted, you may be sentenced to up to a year in county jail plus a fine of up to $1,000. If charged as a felony, the sentence could be as high as three years in prison, plus a fine of as much as $10,000.

Defending Against Identity Theft Charges

The fact that you are charged with identity theft, or a related offense does not mean you are guilty. Indeed, identity theft charges have numerous components, each of which must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt before you can be convicted.

Notwithstanding the existence of the laws governing identity theft, friends, relatives, and others often obtain and use personal identifying information of others with the knowledge and permission of the person whose PIN is involved. It becomes a criminal offense only when the information is stolen, or if it is used unlawfully. As a result, there are defenses to these charges that can, if established, lead to a dismissal or a not guilty verdict. The include the following:

  • No unlawful purpose. Assume your friend is ill. He asks you to take his debit card to obtain cash from his bank account. He gives you the code. You go ahead and obtain the funds for him from the ATM, and then return the card and the money to him. There is no identity theft, and the information was not used for an unlawful purpose.
  • False accusation. Same scenario as above, except that your “friend” alleges that you stole the money rather than return it to him. We can show that you had no unlawful purpose when you went to the ATM, and that your friend not only consented to the transaction, but he also initiated it.
  • No intent to defraud. Identity theft is a “specific intent” crime. That means that in addition to showing that you engaged in particular conduct, you did so with the intent to defraud. Absent proof beyond a reasonable doubt of that specific intent, the case should be dismissed.

These are just a few of the defenses that may apply in your case.

Los Angeles Identity Theft Lawyer

Identity theft is a growing area of the law, and we expect the level of prosecutions to increase as more people use the internet, and scams become increasingly sophisticated. On the other hand, law enforcement may be overly zealous in this area, and file charges that are not supported by the evidence.

If you are facing an identity theft charge, you could be looking at a potential felony conviction with significant prison time. Find out how you can best defend that charge by contacting Chris Bou Saeed and scheduling a free consultation. Call CBS Law at (213) 800-8005

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