What constitutes identity theft in California?
With the prevalence of online commerce and the many ways in which we use the internet for financial transactions, a lot of interest and media coverage is often focused on this type of alleged identity theft. However, prosecutors may choose to charge someone with identity theft for myriad of alleged activity. Thus, it is important to understand what type of conduct investigators and prosecutors will scrutinize, how they may develop a case, but most importantly, where they may overstep the boundaries of the law or fail to prove their case.
California leads country in reported incidents of identity theft
While the count of reported incidents of identity theft is not instructive as to the actual amount of provable cases, it makes clear why the state legislature and investigative authorities have such a laser focus on reviewing and aggressively pursuing charges of identity theft. According to statistics provided by the Federal Trade Commission, California ranked first in 2020 in reports of identity theft at almost 150,000 – almost 15,000 more than the next state. While the rate of reports per 100,000 people ranks the state at 15, it remains an issue that garners plenty of attention and significant legal activity that can have a profound impact on those facing charges.
Significant charges require a strong defense plan
Under California law, identify theft charges can apply to a number of different actions or conduct. For example, many instances of charges involve the alleged use of someone else’s personal identifying information – such as name, address, and social security number – to obtain money, goods, real estate or other property. The law also covers the action of obtaining that information, as well as selling or transferring it to another person. Importantly, this requires the intent to defraud – so someone who happened upon the information, or obtained it lawfully, would not be in violation of the law.
There is an additional law that applies to similar conduct against elders, children, dependent adults or those with disabilities. Under the California Penal Code, those found guilty may also be ordered to pay restitution to the alleged victims for any loses tied to the conduct.
Investigators and prosecutors can be aggressive in pressing charges and seeking convictions for allegations of identity theft – but their version of events requires intense scrutiny and a strong defense. With the stakes so high, ensuring every “fact” is challenged and that state officials respect the rights of the defendant are vital to ensuring a fair process and the best possible outcome.