Despite widespread knowledge of the crime, and more and more laws seeking to prevent it, identity theft continues to haunt thousands and thousands of people throughout the country. In fact, according to the Office of the San Diego County District Attorney, identity theft “has been called the fastest growing crime in America.”
In California, the primary criminal statute applicable to identity theft crimes is section 530.5 of the Penal Code. It provides generally for the prosecution of anyone who willfully obtains personal identifying information of another, and uses it, without consent, for any unlawful purpose, including obtaining credit, goods, services, real property or medical information. However, identity theft is often the means of committing, or is coupled with the commission of, other offenses, and can be prosecuted, depending upon the particular facts of the case, as grand theft, credit card fraud, perjury, burglary, and other crimes.
Federal law has taken numerous swipes at identity theft, and there now exist a plethora of statutes, passed over a period of decades, dealing in one way or another with identity theft. Here are some of them:
- The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998 (18 U.S.C. § 1028). This was the first federal statute designed to deal directly with identity theft, and to make it a crime under federal law.
- Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act (18 U.S.C. § 1028A). The Act established penalties for aggravated identity theft, which includes, for example, the use of identity theft in connection with the commission of certain more serious crimes.
- Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (U.S.C. § 1681 et seq.). An amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, this law addresses issues faced by consumers and victims of identity theft.
- False Identification Crime Control Act of 1982. The purpose of this statute was to prohibit fraud in connection with identification documents.
- Internet False Identification Act of 2000. This was an amendment to the False Identification Crime Control Act of 1982, in order to expand its scope to include computer-aided false identity crimes.
In addition to the above laws, federal statutes involved in the overall issue of identity theft include the Privacy Act of 1971; Drivers Privacy Protection Act of 1994; Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA); Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999; Social Security Number Confidentiality Act of 2000; Truth in Lending Act; Electronic Fund Transfer Act; and Fair Credit Billing Act.
Clearly, we’ve got plenty of laws on the books which prohibit or otherwise deal with identity theft in countless circumstances. So why is identity theft a major growth industry? You might think it is largely the result of the expansion in electronic technology, but that’s only a part of the problem. In fact, only 11.6% of identity theft occurs online. And identity theft is immensely profitable for those who commit it.
According to the experts, the best protection an individual can have against identity theft, apart from not sharing confidential information with others, is to monitor your financial transactions regularly; cancel paper statements and opt for online statements; and set up email alerts to monitor transfers, payments, law balances and withdrawals. You can also review your own credit report to find any discrepancies.
The bottom line is that no matter how many laws are passed, the government is not going prevent any of us from being a victim of identity theft. Sitting back an expecting “the law” to handle the problem is simply wishful thinking.
Spiegel Law Group
109 West C Street
San Diego, CA 92101