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Like many other crimes, identity theft is a wobbler. Depending on the state and the severity of the crime, identity theft can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Sometimes, it's not even called identity theft, but rather impersonation, or fraud. Generally, an identity thief will gain access to a person's bank or credit card information, or enough personal information to open a new credit card, and use the credit to make purchases or cash withdrawals or cash transfers.
Typically, when an identity thief uses their illicitly gained information to steal money, or make purchases, in the absence of specific identity theft laws, the crime will usually be treated like any other theft. Theft crimes tend to wobble between misdemeanor and felony charges depending on the circumstances and value of the stolen or illegally purchased items. Additionally, restitution is usually part of the punishment, regardless of whether it is charged as a felony or misdemeanor.
In most states, theft, or larceny, crimes will be charged as misdemeanors if the value of the item stolen is less than a certain dollar threshold, usually somewhere between $500 to $1,000. However, because identity theft involves more than simple theft, some state laws will allow prosecutors latitude to charge even low value identity theft crimes as felonies depending on the circumstances of the theft.
Depending on the actions taken, and the state, there could still be felony charges even if no money is stolen or purchases made. In fact, in many states, identity theft is always a felony. Additionally, if a person is caught with more than one stolen identity, then they may be charged with trafficking stolen identities, which is a felony.
While you may think it is hilarious to post some embarrassing comments when your roommate leaves their computer open with their Facebook account logged in, this simple act can actually be considered identity theft in some jurisdictions. While your intent to defraud, or unlawful purpose, may be questionable when joking around with friends, it could still amount to a crime.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.