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What to do if you are accused of identity theft

Many Americans regularly share identifying personal information online, whether it is a social security number, credit card digits or bank account information. Some websites provide encryption tools that are designed to protect your information from falling into the wrong hands.

However, not all tools work, and it seems like hackers become smarter every day. Online identity theft is an increasing problem. According to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center, identity theft is one of the top ten most reported online crimes with losses totaling nearly $67 million in 2017.

With this many people affected by the crime, it is no wonder that the federal government and some states hand out harsh penalties to those accused of identity theft. Like all other crimes, an accusation does not equal guilt. If you have been charged with identity theft, it is important to understand what it is, the laws regarding it and how you can respond to charges.

Understanding identity theft

Identity theft occurs when someone obtains another person's personal information and uses that information to commit fraud or obtain financial gain. Identity theft perpetrators may open bank accounts or credit cards in another person's name. They may also access that person's accounts and other records to make purchases or steal assets.

Identity theft law

In South Carolina, identity theft is charged as felony. An individual convicted of identity theft faces up to 10 years in prison or possible financial restitution to the victim. The court can also order those convicted to do both.

A person accused of identity theft may also face federal charges. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a federal law called the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act prohibits identity theft. The law makes it illegal to use or share identifying personal information to commit an unlawful activity that violates either state or federal law. Anyone convicted under this act may be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. He or she also might have to pay a fine or turn over property used, or planned to be used, in the commission of the crime.

Those accused of identity theft can also be charged with other federal crimes, depending on how the fraud occurred. The crimes could include mail fraud, credit card fraud, computer fraud or wire fraud. All these fraud charges have potentially significant penalties, including a prison sentence of up to 30 years.

Facing identity theft charges

Since the penalties for identity theft are so severe, it may be in your best interests to reach out to an experienced criminal attorney. Understanding the charges against you is just part of the battle. Crafting a proper defense strategy against fraud charges is not an easy task. Some attorneys offer free initial consultations, and the consultation may give you a better view of what you are up against. Remember, an accusation is not the same as a conviction, and you have right to defend yourself against identity theft charges.

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