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Identity theft: A federal crime

Identity theft is an important thing to discuss, especially during the holiday season. Identity theft is a federal crime, so the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) tracks and prosecutes those who aim to take advantage of others by stealing their identities.

Identity theft happens in multiple ways. For example, someone could steal another person's credit card in person, take the card to a store and use it to make a purchase. On the other hand, someone could steal a credit card number online and do the same. Some individuals steal more complicated identifying information such as Social Security numbers or birth certificates. With these items, they can open new mortgages, loans or credit lines in the victim's name without their knowledge.

It has been a federal crime to use another person's information without his or her knowledge since 1999 thanks to the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act. This act also made stealing identifying information a federal crime punishable by significant time in prison and fines.

If you're accused of committing identity theft, remember that you get one chance to make your side of the story heard. Maybe you had permission to use the other person's identifying information, like in the case of a young adult using his or her mother's debit card. Perhaps you accidentally used the wrong card after picking up an identical wallet instead of your own from a coworker's home. No situation is exactly the same, and they shouldn't be treated equally. Making sure the court understands what happened in your case is vital to your defense.

Source: The Federal Bureau of Investigation, "Identity Theft," accessed Nov. 24, 2017

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