Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing areas of criminal prosecution, at least within the family of white collar crimes. That is partially because the proliferation of electronic record-keeping and commerce has opened new opportunities for forgery and other forms of fraud that are part of the foundation of these crimes, but it is also because identity theft laws have criminalized some behaviors and raised the penalties on others, leading to situations where people often fail to understand whether something they are doing constitutes identity theft.
Easy-to-identify forms of theft
Most people do not have any trouble realizing that obtaining a social security card under someone else's name and using it is a crime, nor do they argue about opening credit cards in other people's names and then letting them default. What they don't often realize is that some behaviors that have traditionally been taught as high pressure sales and marketing tactics often cross the line. Credit card fraud is the most common form of identity theft, and its expanding popularity draws attention to identity theft, but it is hardly the only form.
Commonly misunderstood forms of identity theft
There are a group of behaviors that are actually common but that also qualify as identity theft under the law. For example, if you have ever written a check on one of your parents' accounts without their knowledge, then that is a form of identity theft and it is prosecutable under the law. In most cases, this would never come to light, because most families would handle it as an internal matter and most people would only do something like that if they were acting in a way they believed benefitted their parents. It is still an issue if one party objects and presses charges, however.
Similarly, certain professional tactics can slip under the radar, such as sending out emails soliciting personal information from people and calling them in order to gain personally identifying information. There are perfectly legal ways to obtain customer information voluntarily, but the line between business best practices and certain legal definitions of identity theft is currently quite thin, so it is unsurprising that there have been misunderstandings. Other common forms of identity theft include:
- Hacking into someone's computer to get information, even a friend or employer's
- Accessing someone else's bank account through impersonation, regardless of the activity on the account once it is accessed
- Using a family member's credit card, EBT, or other financial resources without permission
- Using a fake driver's license with a completely fake name is still considered identity theft.
If you have questions about identity theft or you want to make sure that your business's competitive and marketing practices comply with the law as it evolves, then it is a good idea to consult regularly with an attorney who understands identity theft law and its defense.