Federal Identity Theft Crimes

Identity theft and “new account” fraud, including mortgage, student loan and credit cards, accounted for $3.4 billion in losses in 2018. In that same year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alone processed 1.4 million reports of fraud. And while those numbers are staggering, they are on the increase.

Prior to 1998, these types of crimes were called “false personation,” and the laws surrounding them went back as far as the 18th century. With the passage of the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998, these crimes were taken much more seriously and prosecuted more aggressively than ever before. This act makes it a federal crime to “knowingly transfer or use, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of Federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable State or local law.”

Federal identity theft crimes include:

Social Security number fraud

Social Security numbers are about more than retirement or disability benefits, they are required for applying for jobs, obtaining fishing or hunting licenses, opening bank accounts, setting up investments, filing tax returns, getting car loans, mortgages, apartment leases, utilities or credit cards. That is why obtaining Social Security numbers is such a lucrative criminal activity: they can be used to open up fraudulent accounts, or even sold on the digital black market. It’s also why the government will come hard and fast at those suspected of of Social Security number fraud.

Misuse of a U.S. passport

According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), misuse of a passport is “the use or attempted use of someone else’s passport, or its use in violation of any applicable regulation or law. It also proscribes giving one’s passport to another for the other’s use.” Additional passport crimes include making or using a forged passport and making a false statement when applying for a passport. Penalties for misuse of a passport include up to 10 years imprisonment, as well as steep fines. If the misuse is linked to another crime (for instance, drug trafficking) the penalties are enhanced, meaning that imprisonment and fines are increased.

Computer fraud

Federal computer fraud includes a number of “cybercrimes,” “computer crimes” and “internet crimes.” In short, any conduct that victimizes computer system is a crime under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). CFFA offenses include:

      • Obtaining national security information
      • Accessing a computer and obtaining information
      • Trespassing in a government computer
      • Accessing a computer to defraud and obtain value
      • Intentionally damaging by knowing transmission
      • Recklessly damaging by intentional access
      • Negligently causing damage and loss by intentional access
      • Trafficking in passwords
      • Extortion involving computers

Convictions for federal computer fraud crimes can include imprisonment for up to 20 years and may allow the victims to file civil suits for compensatory damages.

Postal fraud

Postal, or mail fraud laws, are among the oldest in the U.S., with statutes going back to the 1870s. It is also one of the government’s most far-reaching fraud laws. Mail fraud is widely defined as a scheme to:

      • Obtain money or property under false pretenses
      • Sell, distribute, exchange, supply, or use counterfeits

How does this constitute postal (mail) fraud? Anything that involves sending something via mail for the purpose of defrauding an individual, organization or company is mail fraud. Moreover, it doesn’t have to be sent via the United States Postal Service (USPS); if it goes across state lines by a private company, it can still be a postal fraud crime, and it can be punished by fines and prison sentences of up to 20 years.

Bank fraud

Using illegal means to obtain money, assets, credit, securities owned by or under the custody or control of a financial institution or making an unauthorized transaction from a bank customer’s account are broadly defined types of bank fraud. More specifically, bank fraud includes:

      • Check forgery or alteration
      • Check theft
      • Unlicensed, uninsured “banks” soliciting deposits from investors or the public while falsely purporting to be a fully licensed financial institution
      • Check kiting
      • Fraudulent loans, such as taking out a loan right before filing for bankruptcy
      • False entries
      • Embezzlement

Depending on the charge and the circumstances, bank fraud is punishable by up to anywhere from five to 30 years imprisonment.

Immigration fraud

A report by the Congressional Research Service states that “immigration fraud is generally grouped into two types: immigration-related ‘document fraud’ and immigration-related ‘benefit fraud’.” Document fraud (also called identity fraud) includes the “manufacturing, counterfeiting, alteration, sale, and/or use of identity documents and other fraudulent documents to circumvent immigration laws or for other criminal activity.” Benefit fraud is more complicated and can be more sophisticated, but is defined by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as “willful misrepresentation of a material fact on a petition or application to gain an immigration benefit.” This includes marriage fraud, one of the most common types of immigration fraud, in which a person marries a U.S. citizen to obtain a “green card” but never establishes a true marital relationship. Penalties for immigration fraud vary, but may include deportation, prison sentences of anywhere from five to 25 years and significant fines.

Credit card fraud

Credit card fraud is one of the most wide-ranging types of fraud committed in the U.S. The FBI defines it as “the unauthorized use of a credit or debit card, or similar payment tool (ACH, EFT, recurring charge, etc.), to fraudulently obtain money or property.” Credit card fraud accounted for 33 percent of fraud complaints made to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) between 2012 and 1016. Some of the more common credit card scams include:

      • Application fraud is generally tied to identity theft, and includes falsely using the name, Social Security number and other documents of another person to illegally obtain a credit card.
      • Electronic or manual imprints, also called “skimming,” happens when somebody gets the electronic information off a credit card’s magnetic strip and then uses that information to make fraudulent purchases or a fake card.
      • Account takeover happens when someone has all your information, and then requests a change of address. Once the credit card is sent to that “new” address, fraudulent transactions are made.

In order for credit card fraud to be a federal crime, it must have been used in interstate or foreign commerce. Penalties for a federal offense include imprisonment of up to ten years and a fine of up to $10,000.

If you have been charged with a federal identity theft crime, it is imperative that you put an experienced defense attorney on your side

Federal prosecutors bring the full weight of the U.S. government when pursuing a conviction. If you have been charged, you need representation from an experienced, aggressive criminal defense attorney. When you face charges or suspect you are under investigation, call us at (305) 403-7323 or contact us online immediately to discuss your case.