What to know about stealing another person's identity

Identity theft can impact any person at any time. For instance, an individual in Florida could pretend to be someone in another state or country using information gathered online or through other sources. Examples include physically grabbing someone's wallet or sending a phony email. Between 2010 and 2015, the number of identity theft complaints doubled, and it is believed that there are more victims who are not included in official numbers.

One issue that is gaining attention from authorities is the filing of fraudulent tax returns. This happens when an criminal uses another person's Social Security number and other information to obtain a refund that he or she is not entitled to. The money is usually sent to a bank account that the criminal controls. Taxpayers may not know what has happened until they try to file their own tax return.

In some cases, the first sign of trouble is an audit notice from the IRS. Under the 1998 Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act, it is a crime to use or transfer another person's ID for criminal purposes. In 2004, the Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act increased penalties for those who used a false ID to commit immigration violations. It also imposed harsher penalties for those who used it to commit terrorist acts.

Identity theft may carry significant penalties including years in federal prison. This is generally true regardless of what type of crime was committed using another person's identity. There may be tactics that a criminal defense attorney may use to help defend against the charge, including a lack of specific intent. If successful, it could result in a plea deal or an acquittal.

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