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Identity theft charges can encompass a wide range of criminal activity, such as hijacking someone else's Facebook page or using someone's personal financial information to fraudulently obtain a loan.
Equally as wide-ranging are the potential consequences of being caught. For example, a California teen who hacked into another teen's Facebook account and added crude sexual remarks was convicted under the state's identity theft statute and sentenced to juvenile detention and probation.
But depending on both the offense and the state in which it's committed, criminal penalties for identity theft can be far more serious -- and potentially costly too. Here's what you need to know:
Criminal Charges Vary by State
The National Conference of State Legislatures has compiled a state-by-state breakdown of criminal statutes and penalties for identity theft in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. As the NCSL notes, every jurisdiction enforces laws regarding identity theft or impersonation.
The way criminal charges for identity theft are assessed vary by state. For example, under California law, any money or property acquired by a person who "falsely personates another" is treated the same as if that person had committed larceny to obtain it.
California law also covers the stealing of personal information for "any unlawful purpose," charging it as either a misdemeanor or a felony (depending upon the severity). If convicted, an identity thief can face imprisonment, fines, and restitution.
More than half of U.S. states, as well as the District of Columbia, have specific restitution statutes that require those convicted of identity theft to repay their victims.
In some states, such as Alabama, identity-theft restitution statutes allow for restitution to be paid to not only the victim, but also to "any other person or entity that suffers a loss from the violation."
Harsher Penalties for Elder/Dependent Adult Fraud
Many states also punish identity theft involving the elderly or dependent adults more severely. For example, under Delaware law, criminal convictions are punished one class higher if they are perpetrated against a "vulnerable adult" than the same crime against a non-vulnerable adult.
Because the consequences of an identity theft conviction can be severe, you'll want to consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer to fight for the best possible outcome in your case.