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What is the law on identity theft?

Identity theft is a crime where somebody steals or wrongfully obtains another person's personal data in order to commit fraud or deception. This is usually for economic gain, but monetary benefit does not define the act.

This blog offers a brief overview into what identity theft is, and what consequences are likely if you are found guilty of committing identity theft.

The law on identity theft

In most states, it is a crime to misuse a person's personal data or information that identifies him or her. This information could be financial or personal. If a person was to steal this data, it would usually be acquired from accessing government and financial databases unlawfully, or through stealing the person's items such as wallets or personal letters.

In 1998, congress passed a law to make identity theft a federal crime if it is carried out knowingly. In 2004, this law was followed by the Theft Penalty Enhancement Act, which increased penalties for identity theft that was "aggravated". This meant that sentences could go up to 5 years if they were terrorism-related.

Why is identity theft now a federal crime?

In the growing modernization of computers and systems, identity theft can impose increasingly disastrous consequences for the victim. The laws that were in place until 2004 did not adequately penalize criminals for the damage that they had caused, because until recently, significant financial gain could not be achieved through identity theft alone. Therefore, lawmakers decided to make identity theft a felony to reflect the seriousness of the crime.

Source: Find law, "Identity theft," accessed Aug. 14, 2017

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