Identity Theft Laws and Their Consequences

Have you ever found yourself wondering about the laws concerning identity theft? Do they impose adequate punishment on those who engage in this crime. It might comfort you to know that sanctions against identity fraud stiffened with the signing into law in 2004 The Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act. This act lawmakers intended to complement the earlier Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) of 2003.

With passage of FACTA came the birth of a national system of detection and deterrence of identity fraud. FACTA empowers consumers to take certains action as soon as they suspect they have fallen victim to identity theft. They need make only one phone call to alert Equifax, Experian and TransUnion (the three main credit reporting agencies) in order to shield themselves from any consequences of their defrauding.

The Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act itself prescribes sentences, prison terms and penalties for those found guilty of committing identity fraud and related kinds of crime, ranging from mail fraud to terrorism. It treats particularly aggravated identity theft, which the act defines as theft of an identity for purposes of committing crime. Aggravated identity theft carries with it a prison sentence, one which a judge adds to whatever sentences follow from the crimes the accused used the stolen identity to commit. A mail-fraud conviction, for example could carry with it two separate sentences: one for the fraud, and one for the identity theft that made the fraud possible. This shakes out typically as a two-year sentence appended to the one for the fraud.

When it comes to terrorism, this get more serious. The accused may not have directed committed a terrorist act with a stolen identity in order to receive an aggravated identity theft sentence. He or she may simply abet terrorism in some way - say, by supplying a fake passport to the perpetrators - yet still face a two-year sentence

Details of the punishments attending sentencing under the Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act appear verbatim below. Specifically, the act summons judges to:

  • Increase penalties by two years for anyone who commits A "aggravated identity theft" in order to commit another serious Federal offense (including immigration violations, false citizenship crimes, firearms offenses, Social Security fraud, government theft, and other serious crimes);
  • Increase penalties by five years for anyone who commits identity theft for the purpose of committing a terrorist act;
  • Expand the maximum penalty for identity theft under Federal law from three to five years;
  • Clarify that the twenty-five year maximum sentence for identity theft in facilitating terrorism applies to both international and domestic terrorism;
  • Add the word "possess" to the Federal identity theft statute so that law enforcement can target individuals who possess identity documents with the intent to commit another crime.
  • Direct the Sentencing Commission to amend its guidelines in order to punish insider offenses that involve an "abuse of trust" of the person's position.
  • Authorize $2 million each year for fiscal years 2005 to 2009 to the Department of Justice for the investigation and prosecution of identity theft and related credit card and other fraud cases.
Consumers ought to make a point of learning their legal rights with respect to identity fraud protection, detection and resolution. This way they can help to reduce the threat of this crime. They should also consider purchasing the services of a reputable identity theft protection or credit monitoring. Of the first kind of services LifeLock and TrustedID rank as two of the most popular.

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