Identity Theft: A Growing Industry
According to a recent news story, identity theft is the single fastest growing crime in America. And Florida has rates of identity theft that far exceed the national average: South Florida in particular has four times the average number of identity theft crimes.
Stolen identity information can be used in myriad ways, but one of the most common uses is for tax fraud purposes. The IRS has estimated that in 2013, it received 5 million false returns using stolen identities, claiming a total of $29.4 billion in fraudulent refunds. Of these 5 million returns, the IRS likely paid 900,000 bad refunds, amounting to over $5.2 billion. The IRS has been trying to keep ahead of the wave of tax fraud incidents, using software to flag suspicious returns. In recent years, it has increased its focus on sending criminal investigators around the country to gather evidence and prosecute identity thieves.
Identity Theft Under Federal Law
Under the federal Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act, it is a crime to “knowingly transfer or use, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of Federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable State or local law.” This Act, passed in 1998, made identity theft a separate crime against the individual whose identity was stolen. Before the passage of the law, victims were defined only by their financial loss. Banks and other financial institutions used to be the primary beneficiaries of the law, instead of individuals whose identities had been stolen. The law also established the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as the central agency responsible for reports on instances of identity theft, through the Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse. It also increased the potential penalties up to 15 years in prison, along with substantial fines. Legal loopholes were also closed, so now it is a crime to steal personal identifying information, whereas before only production or possession of false identity documents was illegal.
Defend Your Case and Reputation by Enlisting the Help of a Defense Attorney
If you are worried that you may have come under scrutiny for alleged identity theft, it is of the utmost importance that you contact a defense attorney immediately. Often, criminal prosecutors spend months or years building a case before a suspect is even aware that they are on the radar.
Usually, before an arrest is ever made or charges are ever filed, an agency has been watching the suspect for a long time. Because you cannot know what phase an investigation for identity theft may be at, it is important to never speak with an investigator without an attorney present. Investigators are trained to corner suspects using contradictory statements that appear innocent, but can later be used to damage your case and your reputation. If you are approached for an interview or questioning, contact an experienced white collar criminal defense lawyer before you agree to speak with law enforcement. Attorney Jeffrey S. Weiner will work tirelessly to prevent charges from being filed against you, to influence what charges are filed or how an arrest is made, or to negotiate a grant of immunity for you. Contact the South Florida office today to schedule a consultation.