What Is Identity Theft?
Identity theft (sometimes called identity fraud) is a crime in which the defendant is said to have used the victim’s personal data through fraud for his or her own financial gain. This personal information could include the victim’s:
- Social security number
- Credit card number
- Bank account number
- PIN number or login information
- Credit history
The popularity of the Internet has brought with it an increase in identity theft crimes, and laws to control them. In 1998, Congress passed the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act making some forms of identity theft a federal crime. However, identity theft is still also prosecuted in Michigan criminal courts.
Michigan’s Identity Theft Protection Act, MCL 445.61 et seq, makes it illegal for anyone to use another person’s personal identifying information to violate the law or commit a fraud to:
- Obtain credit
- Buy goods or services
- Withdraw money
- Obtain property
- Request confidential records including phone records
- Obtain medical records or information
- Obtain employment
It is also Identity Theft to use someone else’s personal details to commit an illegal act or to sell that information. The law also prohibits a person from obtaining personal information through:
- Emails with false pretenses, or that imitate a business (often called phishing schemes)
- Webpages that appear to belong to a business
- Software that grants access to a person’s computer
However, defendants do not have to use a computer to commit identity theft. Often, the victim’s personal information has been obtained through:
- Phishing phone scams
- Stealing mail
- Snatching wallets or purses
- Skimming ATM or credit card information from a terminal
- Pulling bills out of the trash
What Is the Penalty for Identity Theft?
Identity theft is a felony in Michigan criminal court. It is often paired with other charges that relate to what was done with the victim’s personal information or the use of a computer in the commission of a crime. These other charges can increase the consequences of any conviction. However, even on its own, it cares substantial penalties:
- Up to 5 years in prison and a $25,000 fine for the first offense
- Up to 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine for the second offense
- Up to 15 years in prison and a $75,000 fine for third or later offenses
Defendants convicted of identity theft will also often have to pay restitution or face civil lawsuits as the victims attempt to restore their credit and get back the funds or property stolen from them.
Defenses to Michigan Identity Theft Charges
Sometimes, defendants who are charged with identity theft have good reason to have the personal information of another person. They may be vendors or merchants who obtained credit card information as part of a business transaction (such as an art vendor at a faire). Sometimes, they were authorized to use the information by the owner, or they may have been acting as a creditor.
When technology is involved, prosecutors may not have the evidence they need to connect defendants to the illegal acts. Sometimes, a close look at the data suggests another explanation or defense. In other cases, more traditional criminal defenses apply, such as mistaken identity or lack of proof.
A lot has been made of the victims of identity theft. Numerous articles warn how not to become a victim or what to do if your information has been stolen. However, defendants charged with identity theft in Michigan courts need experienced attorneys as well. Without someone to carefully review the evidence, and the technology behind it, you could end up facing a felony conviction for using someone else’s ID.
The Cronin Law Firm has experienced attorneys to aid with whatever legal issue you’re facing. If you have been charged with identity theft, contact The Cronin Law Firm today to schedule a consultation.