Don’t Go Down for Identity Theft – Understanding 18 U.S.C. § 1028

Federal Identity Theft Law

Identity theft is the unauthorized possession or use of someone else’s personal identifying information to commit fraud or other crimes. This can include things like social security numbers, financial account details, government I.D. numbers, or medical information. With identity theft on the rise, the federal government has passed laws to crack down on these criminal activities.

One of the main statutes used to prosecute identity theft is 18 U.S.C. § 1028. This law, often referred to as the “Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act,” provides penalties for various types of identity fraud. Prosecutors frequently use it to charge defendants with crimes related to the theft and misuse of identification documents and personal information.

In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at the scope of 18 U.S.C. § 1028. What exactly does it prohibit? What are the potential penalties for different violations? What should you do if you are being investigated or charged? 

As experienced federal defense attorneys, we’re here to answer these questions and help clients navigate identity theft allegations.

The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act

In 1998, Congress passed the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act – codified as 18 U.S.C. § 1028 – to establish identity theft as a federal crime. 

This landmark law ushered in key protections:

  • Makes it illegal to knowingly transfer or use someone’s means of identification unlawfully.
  • Prohibits possessing identity documents with intent to commit crimes under federal jurisdiction.
  • Provides penalties of fines up to $250,000 and decades in prison.
  • Allows federal law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute identity theft cases.

By empowering federal prosecutors to impose harsh penalties, the law deters identity thieves and conveys that identity crimes are taken seriously.

Penalties for Federal Identity Theft Charges

Identity theft penalties under 18 U.S.C. § 1028 can range from 1-30 years in prison, depending on aggravating factors. 

Some examples of actual sentences:

  • Simple possession of a fake I.D. or authentication feature – Up to 1 year in prison
  • Trafficking 150+ stolen identities – 15 years in prison, $250,000 fine
  • Identity theft funding terrorism – 25 years in prison
  • Leading large trafficking ring – 10 years in prison, $200,000 fine
  • Identity theft of government I.D.s – 2 years in prison
  • Repeat offender with previous conviction – 20 years in prison
  • Using stolen I.D.s in a $50,000 fraud scheme – 5 years in prison, $100,000 fine

As you can see, sentences range from 1 year for minor offenses up to 30 years for terrorism. Fines from $100,000 to $500,000 may accompany prison time.

Judges consider the scale of the operation, losses caused, criminal motives, types of I.D.s stolen, and past convictions when determining penalties.

With an experienced federal criminal defense attorney, some charges may be reduced through strategic negotiation to lessen prison time and fines.

Aggravated Identity Theft Carries Stiffer Penalties

Under 18 U.S.C. § 1028A, enhanced prison sentences apply if identity theft relates to certain aggravating situations such as:

  • Committing identity theft during a serious federal felony.
  • Misusing identification documents issued by the U.S. government.
  • Stealing identities of three or more individuals as part of a common scheme.
  • Possessing unauthorized identity documents to commit acts of terrorism.

Penalties under this aggravated identity theft statute can add 2 to 5 years imprisonment beyond the sentence for the underlying felony.

Investigating Federal Identity Theft Crimes

The F.B.I. and other federal agencies don’t investigate minor, small-scale identity theft incidents. They focus their resources on sophisticated, large-scale schemes involving significant financial losses.

For example, they may get involved if stolen identities help facilitate drug trafficking or other organized crime.

To take down these elaborate schemes, the F.B.I. collaborates with various federal, state, and local task forces. Investigations can uncover many types of fraudulent identification use, including social security numbers, birth certificates, addresses, passport numbers, and more.

The key distinguishing factors in federal cases are the complexity of the identity theft operation and the magnitude of the losses. Minor purchases made with stolen account info do not warrant F.B.I. involvement. But expansive schemes misusing hundreds of identities to steal millions of dollars do.

Are You Facing Identity Theft Charges?

If you are being investigated or have been arrested for identity theft or another white-collar crime, it is critical to act now to protect your future. Charges under statutes like 18 U.S.C. § 1028 should not be taken lightly. You need experienced legal representation on your side.

At Whalen Law Office, our team has successfully defended clients against serious federal identity theft allegations for years. We have the skills and tenacity to challenge the prosecution’s arguments and achieve the most favorable outcome, given the circumstances.

Don’t leave the fate of your case up to chance. With so much on the line, you need attorneys intimately familiar with identity crime statutes and defense strategies. Our track record speaks for itself – we get results. Contact us today.

Author Bio

James P. Whalen

James P. Whalen is the managing attorney and founder of Whalen Law Office, a Texas criminal defense firm offering personalized legal representation for various federal criminal charges. With a commitment to providing comfort and guidance during challenging times, Mr. Whalen serves as both an attorney and counselor to his clients, helping them navigate their cases while striving to restore normalcy to their lives.

In an inherently unbalanced criminal justice system, Mr. Whalen takes on cases with unwavering dedication. With decades of legal experience, he offers representation across various criminal charges, including white-collar crimes, violent crimes, drug charges, and more. Mr. Whalen’s numerous accolades, including Super Lawyer recognition and board certification in Criminal Appellate Law and Criminal Law, reflect his unwavering commitment to ethical and high-quality legal representation.

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