Identity theft — otherwise known as false personation, or identity fraud — is a serious crime that may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the criminal record of the defendant, the amount of money “stolen” using the false identity, and various other circumstances.
Millions of identity theft instances occur every year in the United States. Given the severity of the issue, the IRS and other government authorities have increasingly been investigating potential instances of identity theft.
If you’ve been charged with identity theft, it’s possible that your actions have been unfairly mischaracterized. There are a number of defenses that you can put forth to avoid the imposition of criminal liability.
Consider the following.
Defendant Authorized to Use Identity
If you were given consent to use the victim’s identity, then you cannot be held liable for committing identity theft. Permission shields the “offender” from liability. In many identity theft scenarios, explicit or implicit permission has actually been granted, though it may not be obvious at first glance.
For example, if you work as a purchasing agent for several businesses, and one of the businesses gives you their banking information and authorizes you to make purchases on their behalf, then it cannot be said that you committed identity theft.
This may be complicated by implicit consent scenarios, however. If the victim in the above example did not give explicit verbal or written permission to make purchases using their accounts, but implicitly agreed — perhaps by nodding along when you explained that you would make purchases using their banking information — then you would be able to avoid liability for identity theft, but it would be more difficult to establish that consent was given by the supposed victim.
No Fraudulent Intent or Unlawful Purpose
Prosecutors will not succeed in imposing criminal liability if they cannot show that you engaged in unlawful conduct with the stolen identity. Even if you somehow obtained another’s identity through improper means, you cannot be held liable for the crime of identity theft if you did not actually use that identifying information for some unlawful purpose.
For example, if you obtained the credit card information of another individual, but you did not actually commit or attempt to commit any crime with such information (you merely had it in your possession), then you cannot be held liable for identity theft.
Specific Intent is Lacking
In order for the prosecution to impose criminal liability for identity theft, they will have to prove that you willfully — in other words, with specific intent — obtained the victim’s identity for some unlawful purpose. Oftentimes, however, the circumstances are quite fuzzy, and you may not have actually intended to take on the victim’s identity. Genuine mistakes are much more common than authorities are likely to consider.
For example, suppose that you share the exact same name as another sales agent, and due to some administrative error, you are given access to their business account. Without realizing the error, you make use of the funds in that account for your own purposes. Given the lack of a specific intent to take on another’s identity, you would almost certainly be able to avoid criminal liability for identity theft.
Contact an Experienced Alexandria White Collar Defense Attorney at Harvey & Binnall, PLLC
Harvey & Binnall, PLLC is a boutique white collar criminal defense firm whose attorneys have extensive experience representing defendants in a range of criminal disputes, including those that involve identity theft.
We understand that being charged with a serious crime — such as identity theft — can put you in a vulnerable, emotionally-frustrating position. We are committed to the provision of comprehensive representation, and keep clients engaged throughout the litigation process so that they are fully aware of how their case is proceeding. This client-focused approach has helped us in securing numerous successful verdicts and settlements.
Call (703) 888-1943 or submit an online case evaluation form to setup an appointment with an experienced Alexandria white collar defense attorney here at Harvey & Binnall, PLLC. We look forward to helping you with your defense.