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Identity Theft Defense
Identity theft charges are a type of white collar crime that is becoming increasing more common in our digitally connected world. However, due to the nature of identity theft crimes, it can be difficult to determine exactly which party is responsible for the identity theft. Thus, mistaken identity theft allegations are not unheard of. Unfortunately, it can take a significant amount of work to clear one’s name once police and prosecutors get involved.
If you are facing identity theft charges, you could face serious consequences, including a prison sentence. Furthermore, because the theft of another person’s identity is sometimes viewed as the first step in a larger scheme or plan, individuals accused of identity theft may also be accused of additional crimes. They may be accused of using someone’s personal information to fraudulently open credit cards, claim tax refunds, purchase goods, or obtain government benefits or services. Several counts of identity theft charges and related charges can mean a lengthy potential prison sentence.
How Pennsylvania Treats Identity Theft Charges
Identity theft is the mere act of fraudulently obtaining the personal information of another person without their consent. This can be accomplished through scams, such as when a person pretends to be a caller from a bank, the government, or some other institution. Identity theft fraud can also be accomplished by purchasing other peoples’ personal information from those who steal identities in order to sell them. Still other individuals may manipulate legitimate systems like the student loan tools or tax systems to fraudulently obtain personal information.
Identity theft is a crime under 18 Pa.C.S. § 4120. Charges are appropriate when any person in the state “…possesses or uses, through any means, identifying information of another person without the consent of that other person to further any unlawful purpose.” Essentially, this means that any person who satisfies the following criteria could face arrest for identity theft:
- He or she found, obtained, used or otherwise possessed another person’s personally identifying information;
- The person did not have the victim’s permission or consent to have or use the information; and
- The individual uses the information to commit or an unlawful act.
To better understand how these type of charges might arise, consider an individual who calls Pennsylvanians while pretending to be an agent at the IRS. The individual may threaten the victim with severe consequences if he or she does not reveal certain personal information such as a Social Security number, date of birth, account numbers, and other sensitive information. Once the individual turns over this information, the scammer may file a false tax return to fraudulently trigger a refund check. Alternatively, and depending on the exact type of information obtained, the individual may also attempt to open credit cards or obtain goods and services in the victim’s name.
However, one can see that the nature identity fraud makes it extremely hard for police and prosecutors to determine who is the mastermind and who is merely a victim. In at least some instances, an identity scammer may pose as a victim to cover his or her actions and blame other victims for the crime. As such, the police may mistakenly blame an identity theft victim for the crime.
Penalties for Identity Theft Can be Severe
Alleged identity theft can result in serious criminal charges. Furthermore, the way the law is written means that people accused of committing this crime often face many counts of the charge. The law holds that each time a person satisfies the elements set forth by § 4120, a separate crime has occurred. Thus, a person could face numerous charges, even for stealing only one identity.
However, while each act constitutes a separate offense, the value of the loss can be pooled between crimes. This is important because of the level of crime and severity of the sentence is based on the total loss. When the value of the total loss is $2,000 or greater, the crime is a third-degree felony. Likewise, any identity theft committed in the furtherance of a criminal conspiracy is also considered a third-degree felony. Furthermore, any time the offense is a third or subsequent offense, the crime can be charged as a second-degree felony.
Lauren Wimmer is an experienced Philadelphia criminal defense attorney. We invite you to contact Wimmer Criminal Defense or call 215-712-1212 for a free consultation today. We aggressively work to seek outright dismissal, or a reduction in the actual charges you will face as well as the associated consequences.
If You’ve Been Charged with Identity Theft, We can help
Criminal defense attorney Lauren Wimmer understands how prosecutors work – and how to combat their strategies. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call today.