California criminalizes identity theft, which entails the unlawful taking of another individual’s identifying information to use the details for illegal purposes. ID theft has become prevalent in Pasadena due to increased access to computers and smartphones, hurting the victims financially, not to mention putting a severe dent in their credit history and reputation. The prosecutor can charge the theft as a wobbler or federal crime based on the circumstances.

A conviction's consequences are life-altering, so you must hire an attorney to defend you and your rights. At the Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm, we will analyze the case and fight the charges to prevent a conviction or obtain a charge reduction.

Identity Theft at a Glance 

Identity theft, per PEN 530.5, is when an individual illegally and willingly obtains and keeps possession of someone else’s identifying information. It means the party could have accessed somebody else’s computer or email details and utilized the acquired data for illegal activities, including to:

  • Make a credit card.
  • Other accounts.
  • Obtain funds or other items they are not entitled.
  • Request medical records.

If you are charged with violating PEN 530.5, you should know that each item you retain containing identifying information counts as a crime. Therefore, when you possess multiple IDs, you will face several charges for PEN 530.5 violation. Circumstances that could lead to identity theft counts are:

  • When you intentionally acquire somebody else’s identifying info and use it for illegal purposes without the owner’s approval.
  • Obtaining another party’s identifying data without approval with the plans to engage in fraud.
  • Selling, furnishing, or transferring someone else’s identifying data devoid of their approval and with intent to commit fraud.
  • Trading, transferring, or giving another party’s identifying information knowing well the information will be utilized in the commissioning of fraud.

You would be guilty under this section even if you did not accomplish the theft. If the prosecutor can show that you attempted, the court will find you guilty even if you failed to cause financial harm or losses.

You will have several questions about the meaning of particular phrases under PEN 530.5. These phrases are:

Personal Identifying Info

Concerning PEN 530.5, private identifying information includes:

  • Official name.
  • Physical address.
  • Credit card numbers.
  • Banking pin.
  • Phone number.
  • Debit card number.
  • Immigrant registration number.
  • Mother’s first name.
  • Bank account number.
  • Passport number.
  • Driver’s license info.
  • Birth date.
  • Birth and death certificate info.
  • Your tax and social security identifying number.
  • School or employer ID.

Additionally, biometrics count as private identifying information. Therefore, if you use someone else’s fingerprints, iris images, retina images, or voiceprint without consent to engage in fraud, you will face charges of identity theft counts, depending on the number of offenses.

Deliberately Acquiring and Unlawful Intent

California PEN 530.5 criminalizes the following:

  • Willingly or deliberately obtaining someone else’s private identifying info.
  • And using it for illegal purposes or intentions.

"Willful" or "deliberate" means intentionally engaging in the act. On the other hand, unlawful intent or purpose refers to illegally obtaining or attempting to secure:

  • Medical details.
  • Credit.
  • Products.
  • Real property.
  • Services.

However, when you willingly acquired the private identifying information, your intentions are irrelevant to the prosecutor. They are not required by law to demonstrate you intend to commit fraud.

You Committed Fraud

Any willful conduct to obtain unfair or illegal gains or causing others financial harm is known as fraud. Also, concerning PEN 530.5, the prosecutor only needs an attempt to defraud to secure a conviction. Whether someone suffered financial losses or was defrauded is not crucial in obtaining a guilty verdict.

Identity Theft as a Federal Crime

ID theft is prosecutable under 18 U.S.C. 1028. Federal law defining ID theft is more detailed than California law. Therefore, chances are your PEN 530.5 violation can be prosecuted and punished under state and federal statutes. In the federal statute, it is a crime to engage in any of the following acts:

  • Display someone else’s identity card deliberately.
  • Transfer identification paperwork was stolen from one individual to another willingly.
  • Possess, move, offer, or manufacture tools utilized in the production of fake identity paperwork.

When the prosecutor proves these aspects of the case, they will secure a guilty verdict. The court will sentence you to no more than 15 years in prison and impose monetary court fines of no more than $250,000 or a maximum of $500,000 when an organization is involved.

Additionally, you can earn a prison sentence of 20 years when you engage in identity theft while:

  • Committing a drug trafficking offense.
  • Participating in a violent criminal activity.
  • You have a previous identity theft sentence.

When an identity theft offense is committed in furtherance of international or local terrorism, you risk harsher penalties, including 30 years of federal imprisonment.

Identity Theft by Hacking

Another way of accomplishing a PEN 530.5 violation is by hacking, which entails gaining unlawful access to a computer, mainframe network, or information with criminal intentions. You can gain unauthorized access to a computer or network with the intent to manipulate the data or the system. It can involve you stealing someone else’s computer logins and using them to access their computer system without consent.

PEN 502 is the law that defines computer hacking. The section defines hacking as intentionally and without authorization entering a computer or network and altering, destroying, or deleting data with the intent of:

  • Performing or creating a plan to commit fraud, deception, or extortion.
  • Illegally controlling, obtaining money, information, or property.

Participating in these acts amounts to a PEN 502 violation and could result in a conviction.

Identity Theft Types

The common forms of ID fraud or theft are:

  1. Social Security ID Fraud

Your social security ID is the most cherished document issued by the government that you have, explaining the prevalence of social security ID fraud cases. Social benefits like welfare, dental care, medical care, and housing are paid through the number. Therefore, if someone illegally obtains your social security details, they can use them for illegal purposes like:

  • Receiving your benefits.
  • Creating a credit card account using the information.
  • Forging documents like passports.
  1. Financial ID Theft

Financial ID fraud occurs when criminals obtain your bank account or credit card details and use them to buy products. The criminals can even max out or use the credit card details to open other cards or obtain financial services using your information. This form of ID theft often causes significant economic losses because of the enormous debt left behind by fake credit cards, low credit scores, financial insecurity, and low purchasing power in the future.

  1. Driver’s License ID Theft

If you misplace your driver’s license and it falls into the wrong hands, your driving details could be used illegally. The person with your license information can use it to avoid charges when they are stopped for DUI or reckless driving. In these situations, the individuals use your personal identification to identify themselves, meaning the citation will read your name. In reality, you are not the person engaged in the traffic violation. You will end up with charges and the payment of court fines for offenses committed by someone else.

  1. Medical ID Theft

People who use your medical ID number to access medical treatment or prescriptions commit medical ID fraud. The hospital records will be in your name even if you are not the individual who seeks treatment. Therefore, apart from causing financial losses from paying for treatment you did not undergo, if the doctor is not aware of the mistake in your medical records, they could make the wrong diagnosis and treatment, resulting in severe health complications.

  1. Criminal or Character ID Theft

If someone utilizes your official name to commit a crime and, when arrested, they identify themselves as you using the fake ID, they can face ID theft charges if the fraud is discovered.

  1. Child ID Theft

It is illegal for a child’s relative to use their private identifying details to create illegal documents, commit an offense, take a loan, or swindle the government. Children fall victim to this offense because adults handle most of their finances. As a result, even if the guardian or relative utilizes the child’s private details to obtain credit, the minor will not be aware of the debts or credit score until they become adults and need to borrow funds. Victims of this offense find it challenging to access loans or experience low purchasing power in the future.

  1. Insurance ID Fraud

This offense is the same as medical ID fraud. The effects of the crime on the victim include hefty insurance premiums, expensive insurance policies, and difficulties making payments.

  1. Tax ID Theft

When thieves or fraudsters use your tax identifying information to file a fake tax refund claim with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), they commit tax ID theft. You could lose funds or be deemed ineligible for genuine tax refunds.

Identity Theft Penalties

PC 530.5 violation is a wobbler, allowing the prosecutor to file the white-collar offense as a felony or misdemeanor count, depending on the circumstances. When prosecuted as a misdemeanor, identity theft attracts the following penalties:

  • Misdemeanor probation.
  • County jail incarceration for no more than 12 months.
  • At most, $1,000 in monetary court fines.
  • Both imprisonment and court-imposed fine payment.

The prosecutor will charge you with a felony if the circumstances of your case are severe and you have a prior sentence for the same. Upon sentencing, you risk:

  • Formal probation.
  • No more than thirty-six months of incarceration in county jail.
  • Payment of court fines not exceeding $10,000.

Apart from paying fines and completing your jail sentence or probation, sentencing for ID theft can have serious immigration consequences. This is usually the case when your PEN 530.5 violation involves fraud. When fraud is used to commit identity theft, the offense becomes a crime, a moral turpitude offense. If you are an alien and commit an offense that satisfies this criterion, a conviction will mark you as deportable or inadmissible.

Other Consequences of the Crime

A conviction for identity theft goes beyond the penalties. You will face other collateral consequences of a conviction. One of the consequences is that a sentence will result in a criminal record. A criminal history makes you untrustworthy, which could hurt your future chances when applying for a job. Many employers do background checks on prospective employees to ensure they hire trustworthy people with excellent criminal records. If the employer comes across an identity theft conviction after the background checks, they will be apprehensive about hiring you and can use the history to discriminate against you.

Leasing an apartment will also be a significant challenge when you have a criminal history. Landlords feel safe when trustworthy individuals occupy their property. If you have a record of identity theft, you are untrustworthy to the landlord, and they will deny you the lease once they run background checks. The criminal history will not make you homeless, but it will deny you the opportunity to live in your desired apartment.

Additionally, the criminal record will hurt your hopes of joining the army. Unless you obtain a waiver from the secretary of defense, you cannot enlist in the military if you have previously been convicted of identity theft. Again, if you are or were in the military, a PEN 503.5 violation will result in the loss of your military pension.

With an identity theft conviction, you lose your right to vote. Nonetheless, the voting right can be restored once you complete your sentence.

If you had a dream of serving on a jury, a conviction under PEN 503.5 would kill this dream unless you restored your civil rights.

Lastly, a conviction will make you ineligible for professional licenses even if you satisfy all the other requirements. If you are already practicing, an identity theft conviction will cancel your permit, denting your career forever.

An identity theft sentence can result in many collateral consequences, and these are just a few of them. Therefore, fighting the charges with all the resources at your disposal is advisable. The best way to achieve a favorable result in the case is by hiring the Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm. Our seasoned lawyers understand what is at stake and will fight tirelessly to prevent a guilty verdict.

Identity Theft Legal Defenses

You must hire a lawyer to defend you against the identity theft charges. An experienced lawyer will review the police report and conduct an independent investigation if necessary. After that, they will analyze the charges and the evidence against you in court. If discrepancies exist in the prosecutor’s proof, they will use it to contest the charges.

Sometimes the lawyer will even interview the victim of the purported identity theft and run some background checks. That way, they can establish whether the accuser has a feud with you and wants to see you suffer or if it was a misunderstanding. Your lawyer can defend you against false allegations by uncovering the truth.

Also, a legal representative will be pivotal in your case during plea bargaining. If a sentence is imminent, the lawyer can negotiate a deal to have you plead guilty to a lesser charge and avoid the stringent penalties of an identity theft conviction. It is not advisable to represent yourself in court because you are unfamiliar with the court process (PEN 503.5) or could be unable to identify the discrepancies in the prosecutor’s evidence.

The legal defenses your lawyer can apply to contest identity theft charges are:

You Had No Illegal Purpose

PEN 503.5 criminalizes the unauthorized use of another party’s ID details for illegal reasons. Therefore, you can only be guilty under the statute when there is an unlawful or illegal purpose in acquiring someone else’s ID details. The prosecutor must not show you have already used the details for unlawful reasons. Instead, they focus on demonstrating that you acquired the ID information with plans of using it illegally or for fraudulent activity.

You are innocent if they cannot prove you had unlawful reasons for taking the information. Your attorney can argue that you collected a wallet with personal identifying information like a credit card, social security card, or passport and were going to report it to the police when you were arrested. The intent to report a lost wallet to the authorities shows your reasons for wanting to use the identity details for legal purposes.

You Lacked Fraudulent Intent

Intent refers to your mind’s state during identity theft. Therefore, you will be guilty if you acquired the victim’s information with the intent to use it fraudulently. Obtaining or possessing the identifying data alone is inadequate to secure the prosecutor a sentence because it is not a crime. They should show you planned to use the details unlawfully or for fraud.

You Did Not Act Willfully

You would be convicted of ID theft if you engaged in deliberate or willful conduct to obtain another person’s identifying details. Therefore, you can defend yourself by asserting that you received the information accidentally or did not go out of your way to acquire the details.

Mistaken Identity

It is a defense to argue that you are innocent and that the charges against you result from mistaken identity. Primary caregivers often face these charges when a senior citizen under their care wrongfully accuses them of spending their debit card money on products or services. If you are innocent and did not use the card, you can claim you are innocent. Your lawyer will then find facts to prove that you could not have used the card under the circumstances or that someone else, like the senior citizen’s grandchild who had access to the house, stole and used the debit card.

An experienced lawyer will also be helpful if you are falsely accused of identity theft. They will use their effective investigative strategies to uncover the truth and demonstrate your innocence to the court or clear the false allegations.

You Are a Computer Service Provider

PEN 530.5f states that any expert offering interactive computer software or services cannot be convicted of identity theft. Nonetheless, when these service providers sell, keep, transfer, or convey personal identifying details, the court will find them guilty of ID theft. If your conduct during the alleged offense was within the provisions of PEN 530.5, you lack criminal intent and, therefore, will be exempted from prosecution.

Role of Your Criminal Defense Lawyer

Many defendants do not know that correct spelling or reading of crimes, penalties, and possible defenses have no impact on the case’s success. There is a difference between reading and practicing law; only a legal expert with an understanding of court rules and regulations knows this. A profound lawyer will benefit your case in many ways, including:

  1. Investigate and Assess the Case’s Facts

Your first meeting with your lawyer will involve a case discussion. The lawyer will ask many questions regarding your arrest. They will also question the arresting officer about the rules followed when making the arrest and the subsequent collection of evidence. Also, an excellent lawyer will evaluate the case before submission to the prosecutor and find discrepancies in the proof that could help prevent a conviction.

  1. Provide Reality Check 

You should expect the lawyer of your choice to keep you updated with the latest developments in the case. Also, when you need to know what to expect at the close of the case, your lawyer will give you an insight into the outcome. When you want to take a plea deal, your lawyer will be on your side to provide you with a reality check on whether to agree or turn down a deal. Your legal representative should also negotiate with the prosecutor for a lesser charge or dismissal of the case based on the evidence.

  1. Court Representation

Your lawyer will walk you through the court process to eliminate the anxiety associated with prosecution. Additionally, they will be available in the sentencing phase, whether you have taken a plea deal or been found guilty by a jury. They will present mitigating factors to convince the court to lower your sentence or offer alternative sentencing.

Find an Experienced White Collar Crimes Lawyer Near Me

When charged with an identity theft crime in Pasadena, you should speak to an experienced lawyer with knowledge of these cases. Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm understands this offense's severity, whether it is a felony or misdemeanor, and how to contest it in court to avoid the penalties. Call us at 626-628-0564 for additional information on these counts and legal defenses.