Defending Identity Fraud and Theft
The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act, passed in 1998, made identity theft a federal offense. In Massachusetts, General Laws chapter 266 §37E discusses identity fraud. The statute reads: Whoever, with intent to defraud, poses as another person without the express authorization of that person and uses such person’s personal identifying information to obtain or to attempt to obtain money, credit, goods, services, anything of value, any identification card or other evidence of such person’s identity, or to harass another shall be guilty of identity fraud. Given the likely complexity of the case, together with the penalties, retain an experienced Cambridge, Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer if you are charged with identity theft or fraud.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft occurs when one person assumes the identity of another person, without permission, for personal gain. The victim’s identifying information (such as a social security number, credit card number, or bank account information) is obtained by another and most often used for financial benefits such as opening a credit card, signing up for a utility service, or even getting a job. This information is most commonly used to commit fraud, but may also be used to commit other crimes. If you have been accused of committing Identity Theft, contact us. One of our licensed Massachusetts Criminal Defense Lawyers will be able to advise you on your rights, possible defenses, and how best to challenge the allegations.
Cambridge Criminal Lawyer Explains: Penalties
If convicted of identity fraud in Massachusetts, you may fined of up to $5,000.00, or imprisoned for up to 2 ½ years, or both. Additionally, you will likely be required to pay restitution to the victim, including all financial losses the victim suffered, as well as attorney’s fees and lost wages.
Cambridge Criminal Lawyer Explains: The Methods
Old Fashion Identity Theft
Your identity can be stolen in a variety of ways. The “old fashioned” way is when a purse or wallet is stolen or lost and an identity thief uses your credit cards or even uses the information on your license to open more accounts in your name. Another fairly simple yet easily preventable way of identity theft is dumpster diving. Throwing out documents containing personal information without shredding them first puts you at risk should a dumpster diver go through your trash.
Phishing scams work quite similarly to its homophone, “fishing”. A hook is baited, usually in the form of an email designed to look like it is from your bank, or a pop up saying you’ve won a free iPad. If you take the bait by clicking on the link, you whisked to another page where you are asked to enter your information. The victim is caught when he sends his information, believing he will be receiving his iPad in the mail next week, when in actuality he has just given an identity thief enough information to take out a loan in his name. Phone calls of similar nature, perhaps offering a free vacation, may also serve the same purpose.
Technological advances have made identity theft easier and thus more prominent. Hackers may try and gain access to secure servers as a mental challenge with no intention of using the information they uncover. However, once they gain access, the information is compromised and personal information of thousands may become available. Personal information may also be compromised when company employees lose laptops containing confidential information, or other devices such as CDs or thumb drives. These security breaches can be a real problem when the consumer has no idea his personal information was even contained on a thumb drive. Massachusetts has passed legislation requiring certain safety measures to be taken when personal information is gathered (for example, if you open a bank account), placing a duty on companies to inform consumers when a security breach occurs, and giving consumers the ability to place a security freeze on their credit reports when necessary.
Hackers may also create step-by-step instructive videos and websites showing how to gain access to secure websites, making it easier for those interested in another’s identity to obtain it. Identity thieves have created storage devices, which are swiped after you swipe your credit card, usually at a gas station, and retain your information for further use.
Danger of Social Networking
The growth of popularity in social networking has made personal information such as birthdates, addresses, and assets a part of a public profile, viewable to anyone. Young adults looking to gain popularity on social sites may add people they do not know and even befriend them, chatting online and revealing more personal information which can be used in stealing his or her identity.
Risks of Online Banking
Online banking has also become an attractive and convenient way to make deposits and pay bills. While some remain afraid of a hacker gaining access to their accounts, being able to monitor your accounts 24/7 actually makes it easier to spot suspicious activity.
Falsely Accused of a Crime Committed by Identity Thief
Money is not always the immediate objective of an identity thief. Illegal immigrants will buy or obtain a social security number of another in order to work in the United States. A person who is arrested may pose as another person to avoid a criminal record and any punishment they may face. Upon release from the police station, the arrestee simply resumes his identity, or that of another victim. When the identity thief fails to appear at court, the court issues an arrest warrant for the unspecting victim of identity theft. The local police will, thereafter, act on the warrant, arrest the victim. If you have been wrongly accused of a crime committed by someone who stole your identity, contact us at 617-492-0055. A skilled Massachusetts criminal defense attorney can navigate you to safety and assist you with reclaiming your life.
Recommendations to Minimize Your Vulnerability
Identity theft can, obviously, damage the victim’s credit, as well as expensive and time consuming to remedy. Unfortunately, most victims don’t have any idea how their identity was stolen. To minimize the likelihood of having your identity stolen, we recommend the following:
- Confirm to whom you are giving out any personal, identifying information;
- Keep personal identification documents in a safe;
- Regularly monitor your bank accounts for suspicious activity;
- Regularly request copies of your credit reports for suspicious entries;
- Carefully review your credit card statements each month for unusual activity or for merchandise or services you did not purchase or approve.
Kevin J. Mahoney is a Cambridge Criminal Defense Lawyer.