According to the Identity Theft Fraud Study released by Javelin Strategy and Research, more people were victimized by identity theft in 2016 than in 2015 but at lower costs. In 2015, 12.7 million people lost $16 billion to identity theft while 13.1 million people lost $15 billion in 2016.
Why has identity theft become a billion dollar industry?
That period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a retailers dream. Encouraged by sales promotions and an increased willingness by retailers to deal with consumers, hundreds of millions of people flocked into shopping malls, or made quick-fingered purchases online, spending an average of $935 ($140 on themselves), according to the National Retail Federation.
The amount of money spent was staggering, allowing for many retailers to finish in the black for their overall annual sales.
Most of these purchases, either in the store or online, with credit cards—the quickest and most efficient way to spend money.
But this universally accepted convenience in spending also brings an increase in something else: identity theft.
Every year, more consumers report fraudulent charges around the holidays. Some even fall for phishing emails and other scams because they are so caught up in looking for great deals and savings.
Not surprisingly, this annual surge has caused law enforcement agencies to focus more on cracking down on federal identity theft during the year-end holiday season.
Penalties for Identity Theft
Individuals accused of identity theft face serious penalties. When identity theft involves a federal organization, like the IRS, or the U.S. Postal Service, the charges are put in the hands of the federal government. Federal punishments are significantly harsher than those found in most state courts, and federal prosecutors tend to have far more resources at their disposal.
Because of this, felony identity theft charges could result in years in prison. A judge will use the value of the goods stolen, as well as any aggravating factors (the age of the victim, the position held by the offender or the victim, if violence or force was used in the theft) to determine the prison sentence.
One of the most significant aggravating factors is when the identity theft occurs “during and in relation” to other federal crimes. If the charge is considered “federal aggravated identity theft,” the offender will be sentenced to a minimum of two years in prison. The maximum term for one count of identity theft is 15 years in prison, although additional years may be added for other forms of federal fraud, and the penalties could reach up to 30 years in prison.
The offender may also have to pay restitution to the victim. This restitution might include the value of the assets taken from the victim, as well as the value of the time that was spent to recover the stolen assets and take action against the fraudster. Even more fines may be placed on top of the restitution.
Accused of Identity Theft?
Identity theft comes in all shapes and sizes. Maybe you saw it as a victimless crime because you figured the credit card company would cover the costs. Or friends talked you into doing it. Perhaps you thought you had permission and only discovered later that you were sorely mistaken. It could even be that you have been wrongfully accused.
Whatever your situation, you are likely to find yourself facing some big penalties. It is absolutely vital that you don’t just lie down and take them. Even with federal prosecutors lined up against you, there are ways to fight federal identity theft charges and walk free without entering a federal prison.
If you have been accused of federal fraud or identity theft, reach out to a knowledgeable criminal lawyer immediately. Mounting a strong defense is your best chance at receiving a positive outcome.