Identity Theft and Fraud Charges
Identity theft is the crime of fraudulently obtaining and using somebody else’s personal private identifying information for personal gain. This information can include a person’s Social Security Number, Driver’s License, date of birth, any any other identifiers that can be used to breach access to that person’s secure possessions. People guilty of identity theft may use another person’s identity to defraud insurance providers, banks, tax agencies, or anything they could use for unlawful personal or financial gain.
Identity fraud is the related crime of manufacturing a false identity for the purpose of fraud, deception or other criminal conduct.
Identity theft and identity fraud are often prosecuted as state crimes, though there are circumstances and related charges that can get the federal government involved. In North Carolina these crimes are almost always felonies, even for first-time offenses. If you are facing an investigation or charges for identity theft, you should contact an experienced attorney who can provide you with effective legal counsel.
North Carolina Identity Theft Laws
North Carolina has three main laws that target identity fraud, identity theft, and the selling or distribution of stolen identities. As identity theft and fraud crimes are often committed in the pursuit of other criminal activity, it is important to note that these charges can coincide with other charges, which can be state or federal crimes.
Identity Fraud Charges
A person is guilty of identity fraud if they knowingly possess or manufacture false or fraudulent form of identification for the purpose of deception, fraud, or other criminal acts. Additionally, knowingly obtaining a form of identification by presenting false or fraudulent information may constitute identity fraud.
The fraudulent forms of identification include, but are not limited to:
- alien registration cards with a picture
- any identification card issued by any department or division or the federal or state government with a picture
- military identification cards
- replica or copy of any of the above items
In essence, this crime only prosecutes fraud tied to state or federal identification, not any act of misrepresenting one’s identity for any purpose. Generally, the one exception is that this crime does not apply to false or fictitious information on a driver’s license, though that is separately punished under N.C.G.S § 20-30, and carries similar penalties.
A conviction of this crime is punished as a class 1 misdemeanor.
A person is guilty of identity theft if they knowingly obtain, possess or use identifying information of another person, living or dead, with the intent of fraudulently impersonating the stolen identity for personal gain.
Personal gain can include anything from making a financial card transaction, obtaining benefits or anything or value, evading law enforcement, and more. The term “identifying information” here includes but is not limited to the following:
- Bank account numbers (i.e. checking, savings, etc.)
- Biometric data and fingerprints
- Credit and debit card numbers
- Driver’s license and other state identification numbers
- Electronic identifiers such as digital signatures, internet identification names, and passwords.
- Personal identification numbers (PIN)
- Social security or employer taxpayer identification numbers
As there are many lawful reasons a person may obtain another person’s identifying information, this law is not violated in any of the following situations:
- Credit information obtained in a genuine consumer or commercial transaction.
- Financial institutions obtaining your banking information for a right of offset or security interest.
- Law enforcement or courts obtaining a person’s identity in compliance with any warrant, court order, or any other judicial or administrative order.
At a minimum, a conviction of this crime is punished as a class G felony. The punishment can be raised to a class F felony if the victim of the stolen identifies suffers arrest, detention or conviction as a result of the offense, or if the defendant was in possession of identifying information from three or more distinct people.
Trafficking in Stolen Identities
A person is guilty of this crime if they sell, transfer or purchase identifying information of another person with the intent to commit identity theft or assist another person in committing identity theft.
While this law does not explicitly state that the defendant must know that the identity was stolen rather than fictitious, it does state that the offense is done with the intent to commit identity theft, so it is implied that the defendant should have been aware the identity was stolen.
Another aspect to note is that while the word “trafficking” is often interpreted as moving large quantities of contraband, this law applies to the selling, transferring or purchases of a single or many stolen identities.
A conviction of this offense is punished as a class E felony.
Federal Charges for Identity Theft
While identity theft charges are often left up to the states, the federal government has one law, under 18 U.S.C § 1028A, for prosecuting “aggravated identity theft”. This crime is defined similarly to North Carolina’s identity theft definition, but is only prosecuted when the act of identity theft is committed in relation to certain felony crimes. These crimes include:
- Bank Fraud
- Embezzlement and theft of public money or property
- Fraudulent acquisition of a firearm
- Immigration Fraud, such as visa fraud
- Mail and Wire Fraud
Essentially, the federal government pursues charges for identity theft when the offense is in relation to other charges the federal government pursues.This means that this crime is treated as an additional punishment to whatever the underlying crime and its penalties were.
If a person is convicted of aggravated identity theft for any felony crime aside from terrorism, they will be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 2 years in addition to underlying penalties. For terrorism offenses, the term of imprisonment is 5 years in addition to underlying penalties.
Defending Against Identity Theft Charges
Defending against identity theft charges requires a thorough review of the case and all related charges you may be facing, which is why it is imperative that you hire a white-collar defense attorney with state and federal court experience. There are several defenses that can be used in an identity theft or fraud case to either completely avoid liability, or significantly reduce charges.
Our lawyers have successfully represented clients in identity theft and fraud cases at state and federal levels and know how to carefully structure a defense based on the facts of the case. Most importantly, we are exceptionally skilled at taking these cases to trial, as we know the tactics used white collar criminal prosecution that often push the defendant into a plea-bargaining position before a trial begins. If you would like to learn more about how we an help, or request a consultation with us, then leave us a message or call us today.