Identity theft is increasingly common, especially as more people put identifying information online. However, identity theft can still involve using physical identifying information, like a stolen credit card or a found driver's license. Identity theft is taken seriously by prosecutors in Virginia and can lead to felony criminal charges.
If you or someone you know was accused of identity theft, it is important to talk to a Virginia criminal defense lawyer to understand your rights. Before pleading guilty to any crime, contact me as soon as possible to discuss your case.
Virginia Identity Theft Laws
Under Virginia Code § 18.2-186.3, it is a crime for any person, without permission or authorization, with the intent to defraud, distribute, or sell, to:
- Obtain, record, or access identifying information which is not available to the general public that would assist in accessing financial resources, obtaining identification documents, or obtaining benefits of such other person;
- Obtain money, credit, loans, goods, or services through the use of identifying information of such other person;
- Obtain identification documents in such other person's name; or
- Obtain, record, or access identifying information while impersonating a law-enforcement officer or an official of the government of the Commonwealth.
Types of “Identifying Information”
Identifying information can refer to physical documents or information, including:
- Date of birth;
- Social security number;
- Driver's license number;
- Bank account numbers;
- Credit or debit card numbers; Personal identification numbers (PIN);
- Electronic ID codes;
- Biometric data;
- Fingerprints; Passwords; or
- “Any other numbers or information that can be used to access a person's financial resources, obtain identification, act as identification, or obtain money, credit, loans, goods, or services.”
Penalties for Identity Theft in Virginia
Identity theft is a Class 1 misdemeanor. However, if the identity theft results in financial loss of $500 or more, identity theft is a Class 6 felony. A second or subsequent conviction is also a Class 6 felony, regardless of the financial loss.
As a misdemeanor, identity theft is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. As a Class 6 felony, identity theft is punishable by from 1 to 5 years in prison, or, at the discretion of the court, jail for up to 12 months and a fine.
Identity Theft Involving Multiple Individuals
Identity theft involving distribution or sale of the identifying information of 5 or more persons that was obtained, recorded, or accessed in the same occurrence is punishable as a Class 5 felony. The penalties for a Class 5 felony conviction include 1 to 10 years imprisonment, or jail for up to 12 months and a fine.
When 50 or more persons' identifying information has been obtained, recorded, or accessed in the same transaction or occurrence, identity theft is punishable as a Class 4 felony. The penalties for a Class 4 felony conviction include from 2 to 10 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $100,000.
Using Identity Theft to Avoid Arrest
It is also unlawful to use identity documents or information of another, to avoid summons, arrest, prosecution, or impede a criminal investigation. This is punishable as a Class 5 felony, including up to 10 years imprisonment.
Financial Consequences of Identity Theft Conviction
In addition to fines and prison time, a person found guilty of identity theft may be ordered to pay restitution to any victims of identity theft. This may include restitution for any losses the individual suffered and expenses to correct and repair the individual's credit.
Online Identity Theft Out-of-State
According to Virginia identity theft law, an identity theft crime shall be considered to have been committed in any locality where the person whose information was taken resides, or where part of the offense took place. This means someone can be criminally charged for identity theft in Virginia even if they were never actually in the state.
Federal Identity Theft Charges
Identity theft that involves accessing information through the internet, online banking, or getting identifying information from other countries can subject an individual to federal criminal charges as well as crimes in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Crimes committed online may be under federal jurisdiction and can be charged as federal offenses. Generally, federal prosecutors will be involved in larger scale identity theft operations.
Federal criminal charges for identity theft can result in harsher penalties. Under 18 U.S.C. § 1028, federal identity theft penalties can include up to 15 years imprisonment.
Identity Theft Defenses
The government will not always have a solid case when it comes to identity theft charges. However, a prosecutor may make it seem like you don't have a choice and should plead guilty or risk the maximum jail time. Before you take any plea deal and sign away your rights, talk to your Virginia criminal defense attorney.
There may be a number of legal defenses in your case, that could lead to a “not guilty” verdict or get the prosecutor to drop the case. Possible defenses to identity theft charges may include:
- Multiple people accessing the same computer,
- The information obtained was not “identifying information,”
- The subject of the identifying information gave the defendant access to the information, or
- Improper search or seizure of the defendant's property or person.
Using a Fake ID vs. Identity Theft
Using a fake ID to purchase alcohol is a separate criminal offense in Virginia. The penalties for a violation of Virginia Code 4.1-305 is generally treated as a Class 1 misdemeanor. However, in many cases the accused can expect a fine, community service, and license suspension.
Charlottesville Identity Theft Defense Lawyer
When someone finds a wallet on the ground, they may be tempted to use it to buy a few things, assuming the credit card company can afford to eat the loss. However, even using someone else's credit card or identifying information for small purchases can lead to major criminal consequences. If you or a loved one was arrested on identity theft charges in Charlottesville, talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney about how to fight criminal charges and keep a clean record. Contact me today for a free consultation.