Personal identifying information is seemingly everywhere in the information age. It is used online or electronically for many different purposes and, as a result, safeguarding it and prosecuting for misusing it have become a priority. If you are being investigated for an identity theft offense, you should know what it means and when an act is not identity theft.
Identity theft basics
California Penal Code Section 530.5 sets out the elements of identity theft. Broadly speaking, identity theft is committed when one person uses the personal identifying information of another person for an unlawful purpose. But not all identity theft crimes are created equally.
Financial gain is a common variation of identity theft. Using the information to obtain money, property, goods, services or credit would all be a violation of the statute. However, actually obtaining money or another benefit is not necessary. The statute also makes it illegal to obtain or retain possession of the information with the intent to use it for a fraudulent purpose.
Moreover, if a person sells or transfers personal identifying information, with the intent that it be used for a fraudulent purpose, their actions can be considered identity theft. Even the theft of mail is specified within the identity theft statute.
Identity theft can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances. Either way, a charge of identity theft is not the same as a conviction. Because identity theft is heavily dependent upon the given facts, so too are any defenses.
What may at first glance appear to be an unlawful purpose can easily turn out to be lawful. Many cases of identity theft require an intent to defraud which the accused never possessed. And any unlawful act must be committed knowingly – this is not always the case. A thorough investigation is required in each case, to ensure the accused is not wrongfully convicted of a crime.