Details on State Identity Theft Laws

With modern technology and the attendant changes to the ways we live come new hazards and new crimes. One of the crimes to emerge with new virulence in this high-tech age is that of theft of identity. However, it should be made clear that this is a crime that is as old as history itself. From Jacob stealing Esau's birthright, to Jean Valjean becoming the Mayor, Monsieur Madeleine, to illegal immigrants to the United States fleeing despots of Central America, there have been many different reasons for appropriating another's identity. The computer age has simply made the act very easy, lucrative and possible in proportions and in volumes never before imagined.

As the name of the crime suggests, this crime occurs whenever someone appropriates another's identity or portion of it and uses it to appropriate the victim's money, credit or other thing of value. These crimes are particularly susceptible to abuse in an electronic environment because of the relative anonymity of online or telephone transactions. With nothing more than a credit card number, social security number or bank number, an unscrupulous person may be able to steal a victim's money or defraud unsuspecting banks or credit card companies by applying for and obtaining credit cards or credit lines.

But money is not the only goal of identity thieves. People may simply want a driver's license, passport, academic credentials or a credit history. With such things, people can enter or reside in the country illegally, or simply start lives over again.

The occurrence of these sorts of crimes is growing steadily. Relatively scarce a half century ago, official estimates now place the occurrence of identity theft at nearly a million a year. In response to the growing concern and attendant losses to businesses and victims, many states have begun to enact legislation to protect the public.

To date, 37 states have responded with laws specifically making identity theft a crime. It should be noted that in all states, theft by whatever means is a crime. The purpose of these statutes is to especially punish people who steal parts of a person's personal identity such as private financial or other personal information. In many cases, these statutes act as enhancements to existing laws. For example, in some states, people found guilty of theft under the Theft of Identity Statute will be automatically guilty of a felony, regardless of the amount stolen. All states have an established dollar amount, usually $1000, below which a theft becomes a misdemeanor. However, in a state without the statute, a person stealing the same amount of money using the same method may only be guilty of a misdemeanor.

There is considerable variation among the states on the particular provisions of the statutes. For example, Alabama and Kentucky have included provisions that make "trafficking" in identities or identity information illegal and state that possession of five or more identities creates a presumption that the person is guilty of trafficking. Some states have also included provisions that list various aggravating factors that will further enhance these crimes. For example, Florida provides for greater penalties if the crime is committed with public records, and Illinois enhances penalties if the crime is perpetrated against an elderly person.

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