What Is Identity Theft?

Identity theft occurs when on person’s personal information, such as their Social Security number or credit card number, is stolen and used to open new accounts, file fraudulent tax returns, buy property, or commit other crimes in the name of the person whose identity was stolen.

Typically, identity theft crimes occur as a method to gain a financial advantage, and the person’s who identity is stolen usually faces serious consequences and can often be held responsible to pay for the perpetrator’s transactions.

The first Identity Theft Task Force was established in 2006 by President George W. Bush, which brought together 17 federal agencies to focus on identity theft prevention and response. Identity theft can be difficult to ascertain, given the fact that most victims are not even aware that their information has been stolen.  However, the government has aggressively prosecuted identity theft cases in last several years. 

Common Types of Identity Theft

Dumpster Diving – Dumpster divers are sometimes able to piece together just enough information from old billing statements, financial documents and bank or credit card statements to get the names, addresses and account numbers of their victims. This information can then be used to open up account

Phishing – Phishing occurs when a victim receives phony emails, typically purporting to be from financial institutions, requesting personal and identifying information for their records, or an email from a “friend” in a financial bind asking for help. Cyber criminals then use this information from unsuspecting victims for fraudulent purposes.

Skimming – Skimming occurs when identity thieves are able to manipulate credit card machines such as ATMs, by inserting a device that captures the account information of the cardholder which is then used to gain access to the cardholders account and steal money.

Social Security Number Theft – This type of theft typically occurs when a company or organization suffers a data breach, whereby the thieves access the database containing their clients or customers personal identifying information. The thieves then steal the information from the database, and use it to file a fraudulent tax return, open a credit account, or something of a similar nature.

Criminal Identity Theft – This type of theft is not as common as the others, but occurs when a criminal poses as someone else, and gives another person’s information to a police officer or other form of law enforcement agency. This type of identity theft can cause a serious headache for the victim, as their name and information can potentially show up on a criminal background check.

Employment Identity Theft – Employment identity theft occurs when a criminal applies for a job using an unsuspecting victim’s name and social security number. If hired, the employer then begins reporting the income earned under the victim’s social security number, which in turn the Internal Revenue Services expects the victim to pay taxes on said income.

Federal Laws Against Identity Theft

Identity Theft did not become a federal crime until Congress passed the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998.  The Act amended 18 U.S.C. § 1028, and made it a federal crime to “knowingly transfer or use, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid and abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable State or local law.”

The Act established the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as the federal government’s central point of contact for the means of reporting cases of identity theft by creating the Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse, the government’s data privacy monitor.

There are several other laws also dedicated to curtailing instances of identity theft, including the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA), the Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act (ITPEA), and the Identity Theft Enforcement and Restitution Act (ITERA). All of these acts were created with a singular goal in mind: to help ensure the protection of victims against having their identities stolen.

Penalties For Identity Theft

There are serious penalties that can accompany a conviction of identity theft. If convicted of a misdemeanor offense can lead up to a year in jail, while felony offenses can lead up to several years or more in prison. Penalties can also include fines, probation, and restitution.

Title 18 Section 1028 of the United States Code provides that punishment for a violation of the federal identity theft laws includes a fine or imprisonment of not more than 15 years, or both if the fraud involves an identification document issued by the United States government, a birth certificate, a driver’s license or personal identification card. 

If the offense is committed to facilitate an act of domestic or international terrorism, the maximum penalty is a fine or prison sentence of not more than 30 years, or both. The federal government has made it a point to “crack down” on instances of identity theft as it one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States.  


The law is very nuanced. Federal prosecutors have almost unlimited advantages and resources at their disposal. Having attorneys on your team that understand the law, keep abreast of legal developments in the law, have the experience dealing with the complexities of federal statutes and, finally, possess the skills to stand before a jury to make a compelling case on behalf of a client are not just important qualities, they’re critical. At The Federal Defenders. we pride ourselves on being advocates for our clients. With decades of experience with all variety and manner of federal criminal issues and defenses, we understand what it takes to put our clients in a winning position. For a free and confidential consultation, call us today at (800) 712-0000. Just like our toll-free number, we operate nationwide.