Identity theft victimizes millions of people each year in the U.S. and causes tens of millions of dollars in damages. It can leave families in financial ruin and force victims to spend long hours and a significant amount of money to remedy.
States like Texas, however, aggressively pursue and punish people who are suspected and found guilty of this crime. You can protect yourself from identity theft by realizing how serious of a crime that it is and what legal measures can be taken to punish offenders.
What is Identity Theft in Texas?
Texas defines identity theft as the stealing of another person’s identity information to get goods, money, services or anything else of value. It is an offense that can be prosecuted within the state by Texas. It can also be prosecuted federally.
Texas law also recognizes two types of identity theft: fraudulent use or possession of identifying information, and unauthorized transfer or acquisition of certain identifying information. Both types of identity theft in Texas are serious offenses and can merit a variety of civil and criminal penalties, including jail time and fines or restitution.
Fraudulent use or possession of identifying information is defined as the theft of a victim’s personal details like his or her:
- Social Security number
- Drivers license number
- Date of birth
- Bank account and routing numbers
The second type of identity theft recognized under Texas law, unauthorized transfer or acquisition of certain identifying information, involves the theft of a victim’s credit or debit card information. Methods like video or cameras are commonly used to steal people’s information in this type of crime. However, thieves can also simply write down these details by hand or record them in a voice recorder.
Examples of Identity Theft
Identity theft can take a number of different forms in Texas. Perhaps one of the most common examples of this crime involves a victim losing his or her wallet or purse and another person using the victim’s bank or credit cards found inside of it. Another close example involves a victim dropping his or her debit or credit card and someone else finding it, picking it up and using it to withdraw money or purchase goods or services with it.
Yet another example of this crime involves an identity thief stealing someone’s drivers license and using it if he or she is pulled over or arrested for a crime. The crime is entered on the victim’s record and under his or her identifying information rather than that of the actual thief.
Identity theft in Texas can also take the form of a fraudulent email, sent by someone pretending to be an IRS agent. The thief may demand via the email that the victim hand over his or her personal information or use a credit or debit card to pay the thief money under the belief that the victim will be audited or jailed otherwise.
Finally, an identity thief can rummage through a victim’s garbage bin to look for bank or credit card statements or anything with the victim’s identifying details on it. Once the thief finds details like a bank card number, Social Security number, bank routing and account number or other identifying details, he or she can then use them to take out loans, open accounts, make purchases and otherwise ruin the victim’s finances.
All of these examples show how easy it can be to fall prey to this crime. Texas prosecutors and law enforcement officials utilize a number of different means to investigate and punish identity theft and obtain justice for victims of it.
Punishments for Identity Theft in Texas
People who are arrested for and convicted of identity theft in Texas can face a variety of criminal and civil punishments. Among them is being sentenced to prison or jail, depending on the severity of the crime and the prior criminal record of the offender. First-time offenders or identity thieves who stole below a certain dollar amount, for example, may face misdemeanor rather than felony charges and serve jail sentences instead of going to prison.
Further, people who are convicted of this crime in Texas can also be ordered to pay restitution to their victims. They may have to pay back all of the money that they stole or a sum of money that is equal to the amount of goods or services that they obtained in their victims’ names. Additionally, they may be ordered to compensate victims for punitive damages along with restitution.
Probation may be another option for punishing first-time or lower level identity thieves instead of sending them to prison. During the time they are on probation, offenders may be ordered to complete therapy or community service hours to pay back their debt to society.
However, punishments for identity theft in Texas can be harsher if the crime meets aggravated circumstances. For example, the offender can face a longer prison or jail term if his or her victim is elderly. Likewise, the identity thief can receive harsher sentences if he or she victimized a physically or intellectually challenged individual, a child or used the identity information of a deceased person.
People who are charged with this crime in Texas have the opportunity to defend themselves in court. They also have the right to hire an attorney to represent them and argue their case before a judge or jury.
Why Hire an Identity Theft Defense Attorney?
Because identity theft can be met with a host of severe penalties in Texas, it can be imperative that you hire an experienced identity theft defense attorney if you are charged with this crime. With the help of a knowledgeable lawyer, you may be able to prove your innocence or argue for why you do not merit the full punishments that are allowed for this crime in Texas.
Your defense attorney can be a valuable ally to have by your side in court if you did not commit the crime. He may be able to show proof that you did not steal anyone’s information or use it to take financial advantage of anyone.
Even if the evidence points to your guilt, however, you can still hire an attorney to argue for why you deserve a lesser punishment like a fine or probation. Your lawyer may use the lack of a prior criminal history to argue for a lower penalty, for example, or explain that mitigating factors compelled you to commit this crime.
Identity theft is a serious offense in Texas. It is often met with a host of punishments like jail or prison time, restitution and probation. You can protect yourself by learning what forms this crime can take. You can also defend yourself if you are charged with it by hiring an experienced identity theft defense lawyer like Brett Podolsky to defend you.