Identity theft has become such a large concern for the general public that law enforcement agencies and State’s Attorney’s offices around the country have designated special units to work specifically and exclusively on these types of cases. These crimes are viewed as very serious violations most prosecutors and judges. In addition, victims of these crimes are usually extremely upset about the invasion of privacy and pressure the state to prosecute to the fullest.
In Maryland the identity theft statute is broken down into several sections. First, it is illegal to obtain, without consent, personal identifying information of someone else in order to get some benefit, credit, good, service or other thing of value. The definition of “personal identifying information” is very broad and includes name, address, telephone number, social security number, place of employment, mother’s maiden name, bank or financial institution account number, date of birth, credit card number or other personal identification number.
It is also illegal to assume the identity of another in order to avoid identification, apprehension or prosecution of a crime. For this section of the statute the identity assumed can be of an actual person or a fictitious person. Actually assuming the identity of another in order to get a benefit, credit, good, service or other thing of value or to avoid payment of a debt or other legal obligation is prohibited.
Also covered under the identity theft statute is the use of a re-encoder or a skimming device to take information off the magnetic strip of a credit card and place it onto another without permission. A person can be charged for simply being in possession of one of these devices with intent to use, sell or transfer identifying information of another person.
Finally covered under the identity theft statute is a person may not claim to be representative of someone else in order to obtain identifying information or payment device number.
The legislature wanted to send a message that these types of crimes will not be tolerated and therefore penalties can be harsh. If the benefit, good, service or other thing of value received after assuming the identity of another person is over $500 the penalty can be up to 15 years in prison and/or a $25,000 fine. If the value is under $500 the penalty can be up to 18 months in prison and/or a $5,000 fine.
If a person is found to have manufactured or distributed another person’s personal identifying information the penalty can also be up to 15 years in prison and a $25,000 fine. Once convicted, the person may also be responsible for restitution including attorney’s fees and the cost of clearing the victim’s credit history and any lawsuits or liens that arose because of the identity theft.
These cases are complicated and often involve complex records and multiple witnesses. It is important to hire an attorney immediately after being charged with one of these offenses in order preserve evidence and build a defense. The criminal defense attorneys at STSW have the requisite expertise to defend these cases.