Identity theft is one of the most publicized federal crimes of the last several years. In response to an increase of online identity theft cases, federal authorities have made several high-profile arrests that receive a lot of media attention in Mississippi and nationwide. However, identity theft is not something that just happens on the internet. Seemingly innocent actions you might take, such as opening your mail, could lead to serious criminal charges against you.
Examples of identity theft
As the U.S. Department of Justice explains on its website, examples of identity theft include:
- Spam emails in which the sender poses as the recipient’s bank, credit card company or other financial institution and asks the recipient to provide sensitive information. This is known as “phishing.”
- Stealing another person’s mail and using the information inside for financial gain. For example, taking a credit card pre-approval form meant for someone else and using it to apply for a card.
- Looking over someone’s shoulder as they enter private data onto a computer or other device or eavesdropping on conversations for information.
The common element in these examples is acquiring another person’s sensitive data without their permission and using that data to pose as that person for financial gain. Besides applying for a credit card, an identity thief might also try to get a bank loan, checking account or insurance policy. Often, victims are related to the thief, though strangers are sometimes targeted.
Common defenses to identity theft charges
As with most crimes, there are several possible defenses that a defendant might claim, depending on the evidence. Here are some common defenses invoked against identity theft charges in federal court:
- Lack of intent. As with many crimes, one of the necessary elements that prosecutors must prove is that the defendant acted with intent. It is possible to receive and even use someone else’s data without the intent to commit identity theft.
- False accusation. The victim of identity theft might misidentify you as the perpetrator. Perhaps you have the same name as the person who actually committed the fraud or someone who had access to your computer.
- Consent. Another element of the identity theft crime is that the victim must not have consented to the use of their data. Evidence that the person who complained of having their identity stolen actually agreed to let you use their identity could present you with a powerful defense.
Your best chance at successfully defending yourself against identity theft charges is to work with a defense attorney who regularly represents clients against white-collar charges.