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What are identity theft laws in California?

What are identity theft laws in California?

Identity theft is the unlawful procurement of another person’s personal identifying information, to use in a fraudulent or malicious manner. The purpose of identity theft is usually to gain access to finances that are not legally their own, such as to use another person’s credit cards or to sign cheques in someone else’s name, to hurt the victim financially, emotionally or socially, or to escape criminal liability by using another person’s personally identifying information.

Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States, with over seven percent of American households claiming a victim of identity theft in 2014.

The elderly in particular are favored targets for identity thieves. This is because they are usually less tech savvy, they have more money than young people and they are simply more likely to give up sensitive information because they aren’t aware that the crime of identity theft exists, because it is a crime of the modern digital age.

Due to these reasons, the State of California now imposes harsher penalties in cases of identity theft where the victim is elderly, especially in cases where the accused is a caregiver for the elderly victim.

Laws, Prosecution and Penalties

According to the California penal code Section 530.5 to 530.55, it is a crime to obtain personally identifying information of another person with the intent to use said information for any unlawful purpose. Under California law, a number of activities can be considered evidence for an unlawful purpose for illegally acquiring another person’s personally identifying information, such as applying for credit, obtaining goods and property or requesting medical information.

The California penal code also lists the types of personally identifying information that can result in a charge of identity theft if they are obtained illegally. These are :

  • The victims name
  • Social security number
  • Taxpayer identification number
  • Drivers license number
  • Passport number
  • Address
  • Phone number
  • Bank account numbers
  • PIN numbers
  • Fingerprints
  • Voiceprints
  • Retina and iris images

Additionally, prosecutors can charge the defendant with “criminal identity theft” if the identity theft affects the victim’s criminal record.

Whether the defendant retained, acquired, sold, transferred or used the personally identifying information for an unlawful purpose, the State of California imposes penalties. The sentence itself is dependent on the specific circumstances of the crime and the severity of the crime suffered by the victim.

Jail or prison sentence penalties for identity theft crimes in California can vary greatly. The punishment for using someone’s personally identifying information to illegally acquire a sum of up to a thousand dollars can carry a fine of a thousand dollars and up to four years in a county jail. However, if the victim is an elderly individual and the defendant is a caretaker of the victim, the penalty can be four years in prison and fine of up to ten thousand dollars.

The court can also order someone convicted of identity theft to serve a period of probation instead of or in addition to a prison sentence. The probation is usually a year long, and during this time, the probationer has to meet all the demands set by the court. These include regular meetings with a probation officer, paying court costs and fines and not associating with known criminals.

In cases of identity theft resulting in monetary or financial harm to the victim, the court can order restitution in addition to the rest of the sentence. Restitution is designed so that victims of identity theft can be compensated for their financial losses to the identity thief, therefore the amount to be restricted varies from case to case.


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