Everyone has heard the stories: someone gets a bill for $75,000 of purchases on credit cards they might not even know exist. That person’s identity has been stolen by a stranger who managed to obtain enough personal information to fool a bank, a credit card company, maybe even the IRS. Florida, according to many statistics from government authorities, is a hotbed of identity theft. Recent Federal Trade Commission (FTC) data show Florida with the nation’s highest rate of identity theft. In fact, the five regions with the highest identity theft rates were all in Florida, with Miami, Naples and Tampa-St. Petersburg leading the way. Contact an experienced Tampa identity theft lawyer today to begin forming your defense strategy.
The Basics of Identity Theft
There are myriad types of personal information that can be put to fraudulent use, including names with matching Social Security numbers, bank & credit card account numbers, passwords & identifiers, Medicare numbers and birth & death certificates. These days, even “biometric” information can be misused as more devices use things like fingerprints and eye scans as means of entry.
Some of this information is appropriated by people with access to it for legitimate reasons (clerks in retail store; people who work with healthcare records, etc.) and some is simply physically stolen from the victim.
In Florida, as in the US, a growing phenomenon is the use of stolen Social Security numbers to file income tax returns in someone else’s name.
Government Zeal versus Government Over-zealousness
The identity theft problem has reached epidemic proportions here in Florida and both state and federal authorities have responded by creating special teams of investigators to focus specifically on that crime. However, when your sole job is to find identity theft, everything can begin to look like identity theft and everyone can begin to look like an identity thief. People marginally connected to the scheme may not have been aware of its purpose, yet find themselves caught up in the investigation.
It’s crucial that anyone who is or suspects they are being investigated for identity theft enlist the aid of an experienced Tampa criminal defense lawyer. Without effective legal advice, it is very easy for a suspect to innocently say things to investigators that are taken the wrong way.
State and Federal Laws
Identity theft is a crime under both state and federal law. In Florida, a statute makes general identity theft a crime, and provides special penalties for certain kinds of identity theft, like from specific types of victims, such as those under 18 and dead people. A separate Florida statute specifies that falsely representing yourself or impersonating someone else to obtain property is larceny.
A federal law, the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998, provides a penalty ranging from 5 to 30 years depending on the purpose of the theft, the amount of money it involves, and whether the defendant has a prior conviction.
An Experienced Attorney Provides the Best Defense
Being the subject of an identity theft investigation, and certainly being charged with that crime, mean that you face the potential for the ruin of your reputation, stiff financial penalties and a lengthy prison term. To make matters worse, many cases involving identity theft also include charges of mail fraud and/or wire fraud if those were the vehicles for communicating information during the primary fraud of identity theft. Those separate charges pose the threat of even more penalties.
And the entire case often comes down to whether the government can establish that you had the “intent” to defraud. That’s an issue that is by nature very subjective. The prosecution frequently tries to show intent by inference from various facts. An experienced Tampa identity theft lawyer knows that the same facts can look very much like intent from one perspective, but very much like innocent activity from a different perspective.
Attorney William Hanlon is a top-rated attorney who handles only criminal defense work including many fraud cases. For 20 years he has helped those accused of fraud in and around the Tampa area. If you are the subject of an investigation or have already been charged with identity theft, get your defense started by calling Will Hanlon today.