In 2003, identity theft had increased 80% from 2002 with over 10 million cases. As a result, the Federal government began taking a hard look at identity theft and penalty laws in the hopes of making this crime less attractive to potential identity thieves.
Identity Theft and Penalty Enhancement Act
The Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act was signed into law in the United States by President Bush on July 15, 2004. This new piece of legislation increased the penalties for those who commit identity theft. Not only were penalties increased, but aggravated identity theft was labeled a criminal offense with its own set of penalties.
Aggravated Identity Theft
Aggravated identity theft begins with a thief stealing an identity through the Internet, dumpster diving, wallet snatching, or paying another criminal for an identity. The thief then uses that identity in conjunction with another crime. For example, a thief may steal an identity and then sell fake passports using this identity to criminals wanting to leave the country. Or a criminal could steal an identity to frame that person for a crime.
For example, Dean Brancuso found out there was a warrant out for his arrest in New Jersey for failing to appear in court on a public disturbance charge. His wallet had been stolen three months before in the subway after a Yankees game. While he did all the right things by cancelling his credit cards, putting a fraud alert on his credit report and opening new bank accounts, the thief was able to use his drivers license information and social security card to forge a new identity. When the police finally arrested the thief, he told the police he was Dean Brancuso.
Terrorism and Identity Theft
Identity theft and penalty laws related to terrorism were also enhanced by this new Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act. When a criminal steals an identity and uses this information while committing an act of terrorism either within the United States or abroad, the criminal faces even harsher penalties than those associated with aggravated identity theft.
An individual who steals an identity will face up to five years in prison for this theft. However, if the criminal uses the stolen identity to commit a crime, the thief will face an additional two years in prison. The thief in the previous example was caught and he was sentenced to seven years for his criminal act. And if the stolen identity is used in conjunction of an act of terrorism, the perpetrator will get five additional years in prison on top of the seven years for aggravated identity theft. In addition, none of this penalty time can be served on probation. The criminal must serve the entire sentence in prison. There are also state penalties that an identity thief must face on top of the federal identity theft and penalty laws.
Thanks to the Identity Theft and Penalty Enhancement Act, criminals who steal identities are facing much stiffer penalties with a minimum of 5 years in prison. And for those using a stolen identity to commit a crime or an act of terrorism, the penalties are even harsher.