Virginia Identity Theft Attorney
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), approximately 14 million Americans – one in 20 – have their identities stolen every year. Billions of dollars are lost to identity theft, much of it unrecoverable.
This theft occurs when someone uses another person’s identity or other unique personal information to obtain a benefit or to harm someone, a business or even the government (such as welfare fraud). Virginia has several laws that criminalize different aspects of identity theft, though the varieties and methods of this type of crime seem to grow and change due to the imagination of some criminals. With the changing law and application of the law to technology, it is important to consult with a Virginia identity theft lawyer who is willing to take time to build a defense for your specific case.
It is a crime in the Commonwealth of Virginia for anyone to use the identifying information of another person with the intent to defraud. Four different types of offenses are covered by current fraud laws:
- Improperly acquiring personal information in order to access financial resources or benefits or to obtain identification documents
- Using personal information to illegally obtain goods or services
- Using personal information to secure (hijack) or create identification documents in someone else’s name with the intent to defraud
- Accessing or obtaining personal information by impersonating a state official or law enforcement officer
Stolen identities can be used to run up fraudulent charges on existing credit card accounts or to open new accounts in someone else’s name. In today’s world of electronic information sharing, it is easier than ever to commit this serious criminal offense. The mayhem it causes to consumers, retailers, banks and credit reporting agencies is staggering. Federal identity fraud cases are also growing at an alarming rate.
Types of Identity Theft
There are many “gateway” fraud offenses, and more seem to be created every day. They can include:
- New account fraud
- Account takeover fraud
- Criminal identity theft
- Medical identity theft
- Business of commercial identity theft
- Identity cloning
Using a Computer to Gather Identifying Information
These days, anyone can use the online world to steal a person’s unique identifying information. We use the term “hack” often in daily conversation. However, if this is caught by law enforcement, it is,typically a Class 6 felony in Virginia. If you obtain such information via a computer, and then sell it to another – regardless of whether the buyer is intent on committing fraud with the data – the offense is bumped to a Class 5 felony. And if the buyer uses the stolen information to commit another crime, they, too, have committed the same Class 5 felony.
Very technical sequences of events are involved in identity theft. An astute Virginia identity theft lawyer can often derail such intricate cases and create reasonable doubt in the minds of a jury, and sometimes even prosecutors—especially if defense attorneys are brought into the case during the investigation phase, where their influence is greatest.
Penalties for Identity Fraud in Virginia
If state prosecutors can prove that the identity theft resulted in financial loss greater than $200, the crime is a Class 6 felony and punishable by one to five years in a Virginia correctional institution, or in the court’s discretion a jail sentence of up to 12 months and a fine that could be as much as $2,500. If the loss was $200 or less, it’s a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months in jail and/or a maximum fine of $2,500. Any second or subsequent conviction for identity theft can be bumped to a Class 5 felony (as can be defrauding a police officer) – bringing one to 10 years in prison and the same discretionary punishment of up to 12 months in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500. The Virginia Sentencing Guidelines for these same offenses are strict, and though discretionary, they give the sentencing judge a good framework for possible punishments. If you have been accused of a federal fraud charge, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines for these offenses are especially harsh, particularly in cases involving multiple counts, multiple victims, or a high amount of pecuniary loss.
How an Identity Theft Attorney in Virginia Can Help
If you are being investigated for – or have been charged with – any form of identity theft, we strongly urge you to immediately contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who has dealt with both state and federal prosecutors successfully. Our Virginia identity theft lawyers can advise you of your best defense options and execute a strong defense strategy that could reduce – and possibly even eliminate – the charges. Call today for your free consultation.