Using another person’s identification information, like their name, credit card details, or Social Security Number, without authorization is a severe offense in California. Since most people do this intending to commit fraud and other crimes, California laws are pretty stringent on anyone found guilty of identity theft. A conviction for identity theft is punishable by up to three years in jail, plus a hefty penalty. It could also have other life-changing effects, like on your immigration status and gun rights.

Therefore, if you face charges for identity theft in Riverside, CA, you could benefit from the help of experienced criminal defense attorneys at Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm. Our attorneys will smoothen the legal process for you, help you gather sufficient evidence, and plan a strong defense for your case.  With the right legal strategies, we could compel the court to drop or reduce your charges.

Legal Definition of California Identity Theft

California law against identity theft is under PC 530.5. According to this law, you commit identity theft when you take another person’s identification details and use them illegally or fraudulently. Using another person’s personal information without their consent is an offense in itself. But stealing someone else’s personal information like their Social Security number, credit card details, and name and using them to commit an offense is a more severe crime.

You can commit identity theft in many ways, for instance, signing another person’s name on a check or using your friend’s school ID to obtain services in school without their consent.

If you face charges for identity theft, it helps to understand the details of this law to determine ways in which you can defend yourself against the charges. An experienced criminal defense attorney will help you along the way.

For a court to find you guilty of identity theft, the prosecutor must prove one or more of the following statements beyond a reasonable doubt. They are the four classes of identity theft under California PC 530.5:

  • That you willfully obtained someone else’s identification and used that info for illegal purposes without the person’s consent — PC 530.5(a)
  • That you took another person’s identification information without their consent, intending to commit fraud — PC 530.5(c)
  • That you sold, transferred, or provided another person’s identification without their consent, intending to commit fraud — PC 530.5(d)(1)
  • That you sold, transferred, or provided another person’s identification without the knowledge that someone else could use the data in committing fraud — PC 530.5(d)(2)

To understand this offense even better, let us look at the meaning of some of its elements in greater detail:

Personal Identification

As used under this law, personal identification could include any of the following information:

  • The name, address, date of birth, and phone number of a person
  • Their social security number and tax ID
  • Passport information or driver license number provided by the California DMV
  • Employee or student ID number
  • Their mother’s maiden name
  • Credit card number or bank details
  • Information on the person’s birth or death certificate

Willfully Obtaining Information for Unlawful Purposes

The law requires you to have willfully obtained another person’s identification. It means that you obtained the information on purpose or willingly. There was no mistake about it.

Unlawful purposes could include the purpose of obtaining or an attempt to obtain goods, services, credit, real estate property, or even medical information.

The law doesn’t require the prosecutor to prove your intention to defraud the victim to be found guilty under California PC 530.5.

To Commit Fraud

The law considers the possibility that you could have committed identity theft to commit fraud. Fraud refers to any deliberate action by a person to do any of the following:

  • To gain an unlawful or unfair gain over the other person
  • To cause the other person to incur a loss

However, the court will not consider whether or not you defrauded or caused the other person to incur a loss to find you guilty under this law. It will only consider the main elements of the offense: that you illegally obtained or used another person’s identification without their consent.

Example: Jimmy steals his roommate’s credit card details, planning to make an online purchase for some shoes he likes but cannot afford. If the police arrest Jimmy before making the purchase, he could still be found guilty under PC 530.5. Jimmy made a deliberate move that could cause his roommate to incur a financial loss. Jimmy could face the total penalties under PC 530.5 even though he fails in his plans.

Here are other examples of actions that could support California identity theft charges:

  • Intercepting personal information of an online buyer, then using that information to make your online payments
  • Through phishing, whereby you pose as an agency, company, or organization to illegally obtain personal information of unsuspecting internet users through emailing
  • Through hacking a variety of computer systems whereby many people’s personal information is stored, for instance, in banks and retail chains
  • Skimming, whereby you install an additional device into an existing credit card reader or ATM
  • The additional device reads other people’s credit card information.
  • Mail theft, whereby you directly steal people’s credit cards and bank statements from their mailbox, from where you obtain their personal information

Identity Theft as a White Collar Offense

The term ‘white collar’ is legally used to refer to serious non-violent offenses. They concern property or money belonging to another person or entrusted in the hands of the perpetrator. California law severely punishes white-collar crimes because of their nature and the possibility of victims incurring significant losses.

Identity theft is one such crime. It occurs in both the online and physical worlds. When you obtain another person’s name, physical address, credit card or social security number, and other identifying information to commit fraud, you put the victim at risk of suffering a significant financial loss if you succeed.

The new technology has made the commission of some of these offenses very easy. For instance, people are shopping and paying for goods and services online these days. Online platforms do not require buyers to verify their identity when making payments, as you can expect in actual stores. The use of credit cards to make online purchases is on the rise too. Only a little basic information is needed for a person to complete their online order. Fraudsters are taking advantage of this to defraud unsuspecting online shoppers of their hard-earned money.

Even though identity fraud is non-violent, its impact on the victims is almost the same as that of a violent-related crime. The victim may not experience the fear and trauma associated with violence, but most of them are left counting huge financial losses if the perpetrator succeeds.

It explains why California laws are stringent on people found guilty of committing white-collar crimes, more so identity theft. If you face charges for identity theft, it helps to work closely with an experienced criminal attorney if you want to avoid a conviction.

Penalties for a California Identity Theft Conviction

Stealing another person’s private information for illegal or fraudulent use is a severe offense, attracting a severe penalty upon conviction. Identity theft is a cobbler offense in California. It means that the prosecutor could charge it as a felony or misdemeanor. The basis of the prosecutor’s decision is mainly on the facts of your case and your criminal history.

If you face misdemeanor charges for identity theft, you are likely to receive the following penalties:

  • Misdemeanor probation
  • A maximum of one year in jail
  • A fine of not more than $1,000

If you face a felony charge, the punishment you are likely to receive might include:

  • Felony probation
  • A maximum of three years in state prison
  • A fine of not exceeding $3,000

Unfortunately, identity theft charges carry other severe consequences you could receive upon conviction. They include:

Immigration Consequences

A conviction for certain offenses in California is likely to affect your immigration status if you are not an American citizen. Identity theft is among those offenses as it is listed among crimes of moral turpitude. Moral turpitude refers to all conduct that violates acceptable standards in California.

Therefore, if you are an immigrant already living within California, you could be deported if convicted of identity theft. If you are not already living in California but are in the process of seeking admission into the United States, a conviction for identity theft could make you inadmissible.

California laws also list identity theft under fraud crimes, which have severe immigration consequences for convicts.

Effects on Your Gun Rights

California has strict gun laws, which restrict certain people from owning or purchasing a firearm. For instance, if a court has convicted you of a felony, you could lose your gun rights. Since PC 530.5 is a wobbler offense, a conviction might affect your right to own or purchase a firearm.

Expungement of a Conviction Record

A conviction for identity theft in your criminal record can be very damaging. People can quickly obtain your criminal record before engaging your services, including potential employers. A conviction record might influence their decision.

Fortunately for you, California expungement laws allow you to apply to remove this conviction from your criminal record. However, the court will require you to have completed your probation or jail sentence. If the court grants your request, you’ll be able to avoid all the challenges involved with having a criminal conviction in your criminal history.

Possible Legal Defense to California Identity Theft Charges

Identity theft is a severe offense in California, carrying both criminal and civil consequences upon conviction. It is a life-changing offense that could leave you paying hefty penalties if convicted. Thus, it could help to do everything possible to avoid a conviction if you face charges for the offense in Riverside, CA. Strong defense from an experienced attorney could make a significant difference in your case.

Fortunately, several defense strategies for identity theft are available that could help compel the court to either drop or reduce your charges. Some of the techniques your attorney can use to help your case are:

No Illegal Purpose

One of the elements of this offense that the prosecutor must prove in court to find you guilty of identity theft is that you took the other person’s personal information for unlawful purposes. If the illegal purpose is missing, you’ll not receive a conviction because the prosecutor will not prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. 

This defense strategy could help if you did not intend to commit a crime when obtaining another person’s private information. It could be that you needed the information to compile a report or any other official purpose.

If your criminal attorney successfully convinces the court of the lack of illegal purpose in your case, the court will drop your charges.

No Willful Act

The law requires you to have willfully obtained another person’s identifying information for you to receive a sentence for identity theft. You could counter your charges by convincing the court that you did not act willfully. You could have come across the person’s identifying information by accident. For instance, if someone left their pulse or wallet in your office or home, you cannot be guilty of identity theft even if the purse or wallet in your home or office contained their ID.

Or, someone else might have obtained the victim’s identifying information, and not you. For instance, if the victim’s private documents were in a bag that your friend or colleague asked you to carry for them.

A competent criminal attorney will know the right strategy to use to convince the court of your lack of willingness to commit the offense. If successful, the court will drop your charges.

Lack of Intent to Defraud

Some identity theft cases require the prosecutor to prove in court that the defendant intended to defraud the victim. If your case falls under this category, and you did not intend to defraud the victim, your attorney can use this strategy to have your charges dropped or reduced. For instance, if you are a computer service provider or an access software provider, you might have obtained a potential client’s private data for other reasons without intending to defraud them.

False Accusations

Cases of people falsely accusing others of criminal offenses are on the rise. Some are guided by a desire for revenge, while others, out of jealousy. Thus, it will not come as a surprise to the court if you cite false accusations as a defense to your identity theft charges.

It is common knowledge that financial institutions are always willing to write off losses their clients have incurred through crimes like identity theft. Unfortunately, some people take advantage of this by accusing innocent people of defrauding them while, in the real sense, they are trying to avoid paying the debts they have accumulated.

You might be a victim of false accusations if someone close to you, say an ex-partner, ex-roommate, or even a close relative, accused you of identity theft. A competent attorney will know the kind of evidence to gather and present in court to prove your innocence before the jury.

How a Person Can Protect Their Identity from ID Thieves

Identity thieves are becoming smarter by the day, especially with the advancement in technology. A person has to be careful to ensure that his/her personal information is not leaking out to a potential ID thief. Here are some of the tips you could use to protect your personal information:

  • Do not give out your personal details to untrustworthy people or sources
  • Shred or destroy documents bearing your personal information, or old credit cards
  • Install a key lock on your mailbox
  • Create strong passwords for your online accounts
  • Keep checking your online accounts to ensure they’re safe
  • Keep checking your credit cards reports to be sure that no one is using your details to make online purchases
  • Refrain from using public internet connections to view your online accounts

What To Do If You are a Victim of Identity Theft in California

California’s Office of the attorney general has provided a checklist as guidance for victims of identity theft to follow when reporting the crime. Here are some of the crucial things you must do if someone stole your identity:

  • Report the crime immediately it happens to the three leading credit reporting agencies, namely Experian, Equifax, and Transunion
  • Report the offense to law enforcement agencies — You could file a report with the local police
  • Call your creditors to find out if the thief has created new accounts under your name
  • Request for your credit reports — You are entitled to a free credit report every year
  • Carefully go through your credit reports to make sure that they are correct
  • If you notice suspicious activity in your credit report, you could consider freezing the affected credit account/accounts
  • Enter the name of the identity thief in the state’s registry for identity thieves

California Identity Theft and Related Charges

California PC 530.5 is closely related to other offenses. Some offenses are prosecuted in place of identity theft, while others are charged together with identity theft. Some of these offenses are:

False Impersonation — California PC 529

False impersonation occurs when a person uses another person’s name or identity to harm that person or gain an unfair advantage over them. You could face charges for false impersonation if you pretended to be another person, then use that acquired identity to commit an offense or do something that will bring loss to the victim. For example, obtaining a credit card using another person’s private information and making online purchases using the card.

False impersonation is a wobbler offense in California. As a misdemeanor, you are likely to receive a maximum jail time of one year, and as a felony, you could face up to three years in state prison.

Credit/Debit/Access Card Fraud — California PC 484e, 484f, 484g, 484h, 484i, and 484j

You commit credit card fraud in so many ways in California. For instance, using another person’s credit card without their consent or knowingly using a credit card linked to an account without any funds. It could also occur when you use a stolen or lost credit card to pay for goods or services. All fraud-related offenses committed using credit, debit, or access cards fall under this category. Prosecutors charge most cases of credit card fraud in California as grand theft, petty theft, or forgery.

Mail Theft — California PC 530.5(e)

You commit mail theft in California if you do one or more of the following:

  • Take or steal mail from another person’s receptacle or mailbox
  • Using deception or fraud to obtain another person’s mail
  • Removing the contents of a stolen mail
  • Hiding or destroying stolen mail

People commit mail theft for various reasons, for instance, to access another person’s identifying information with the intent to commit identity theft.

Mail theft is mainly a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum of one year in jail and/or a fine of not more than $1,000.

California Forgery — PC 470

You commit forgery in California if you falsify a signature or fraudulently alter specific documents. For instance, if you sign the name of a fictitious person or forge another person’s handwriting with the intent to defraud a person or organization. You could face charges for forgery and identity theft at the same time, depending on the facts of your case.

Forgery is a wobbler offense in California. As a misdemeanor, you are likely to face jail time for a maximum of one year. As a felony, you could face a maximum prison time of three years.

Find a Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm Near Me

If you face charges for identity theft in Riverside, CA, it could greatly benefit your case if you engaged the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Your attorney will help you gather sufficient evidence, plan a strong defense against your charges, and walk with you through the process until the conclusion of your case. At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, our criminal attorneys have the necessary skills and experience to defend you against the charges you’re facing. Call us at 951-946-6366 and let us review the details of your case.