Identity theft occurs in Florida when one person uses another person’s identity illegally to obtain money, services, goods, or anything that has value. Anyone who is charged with identity theft in the State of Florida must have the advice and services of a Miami identity theft attorney.
It is not difficult to have your identity stolen in Florida. More than 100,000 incidents of identity theft were reported in this state in 2020. Credit card fraud is the most commonly reported type of identity theft in the state, accounting for almost 44 percent of all Florida identity theft reports.
What types of theft are defined as identity theft? If you’re charged with a crime of identity theft, what are your rights, and how can you successfully contest an identity theft charge?
If you’ll keep reading, you will learn the answers to these questions, and if you have been charged with a crime of identity theft, you’ll learn how a South Florida identity theft attorney can help you.
What Crimes Are Federal Identity Theft Crimes?
In 2020, more than four million cases of identity theft were reported in the United States. Identity theft is not a violent crime, but it is not a victimless crime, either. Consumers in the U.S. lost more than $3 billion to identity thieves in 2020.
A number of crimes are considered identity theft, which is the possession or use of a person’s identity information without that person’s permission. That information may be a driver’s license, date of birth, Social Security number, fingerprints, credit card, or bank account number.
The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998 makes it a federal crime to use or to transfer, without that person’s consent, the identity information of another person with the intent to commit, aid, or abet a crime.
The Theft Penalty Enhancement Act of 2004 increased the length of federal prison terms for “aggravated” identity theft convictions.
What Are the Identity Theft Charges in Florida?
Florida’s laws against identity theft make the following actions illegal:
- The criminal use of personal identification: This is the possession or use of a person’s identity information without that person’s permission.
- The criminal use of personal information to harass: In Florida, when stolen personal information is used to harass a person, the charge is a first-degree misdemeanor.
- The criminal use of a minor’s personal information: Stealing the identity of a minor in order to commit a crime is a second-degree felony in this state.
- The criminal use of a deceased person’s personal information: Stealing the identity of someone who is deceased is a third-degree felony in Florida.
Any of these charges may be upgraded to a second-degree felony if $5,000 or more was stolen, and the charge may be upgraded to a first-degree felony if $50,000 or more was stolen.
Federal prosecutors use every legal tool at their disposal to prosecute defendants in federal identity theft cases. In Tampa in 2015, federal prosecutors called nearly two hundred witnesses to testify against two defendants facing identity theft and related fraud charges.
What Are the Penalties for Identity Theft Convictions in Florida?
A conviction on any of the four charges listed above can trigger a prison or jail sentence, but prison and jail aren’t the only penalties imposed on convicted identity theft offenders. Costly fines may also be imposed, and offenders may be sentenced to community service and/or probation.
A criminal conviction additionally establishes a criminal history that may make it challenging to find housing or employment or to be approved for a loan.
If you hold a professional license, a conviction for a crime of identity theft may trigger disciplinary action from your professional licensing board. And if you’re not a U.S. citizen, an identity theft conviction may lead to a deportation.
A conviction for an identity theft crime may also be followed by a civil lawsuit when the victim or victims take legal action to recover their losses and related damages.
How Will Your Lawyer Defend You Against an Identity Theft Charge?
Most identity thefts are prosecuted at the state level by a local prosecutor. If you’re accused of identity theft, by a federal prosecutor or by the State of Florida, you must be defended by a Miami identity theft attorney.
The strategy that your defense lawyer will use on your behalf depends on the specifics of the charge against you, but in general, the defenses against identity theft charges include:
- You did not have any criminal intent to harm or defraud a victim.
- You acquired someone’s identity information by mistake or accident.
- Someone else committed the theft.
- No crime happened, and the identity theft accusation is a fabrication or a mistake.
After reviewing the charge against you, a South Florida identity theft attorney will develop an aggressive and effective strategy for defending you against the charge.
How Should You Handle an Arrest?
If you’re taken into police custody and charged under the identity theft laws, contact a Miami criminal defense lawyer as quickly as possible. Until you speak with your defense attorney, insist on your rights.
Don’t respond to any of the questions you may be asked by the police. Be polite, courteous, and cooperative – up to a point – but exercise your right to remain silent and your right to consult an attorney. You can say, “I prefer not to answer questions until I can be advised by my attorney.”
Will Your Case Go to Trial?
At a trial, your identity theft lawyer will tell a jury what actually took place and why you should be found not guilty. In some cases, however, the evidence may be conclusive, a conviction may be inevitable, and your defense attorney may negotiate a plea deal on your behalf.
In a typical plea deal, a defendant enters a guilty plea to a reduced charge and agrees to serve a reduced sentence. However, if you’re innocent of an identity theft crime, do not take a plea offer. Insist instead on your right to a trial by jury.
Whether the charge against you is a felony or a misdemeanor, and whether you’re prosecuted at the federal level or at the state level, in South Florida, you must have a good Miami defense attorney advocating on your behalf, and you must reach out to that attorney as early as possible.