In March, Federal authorities arrested 19 people in an alleged transnational online identity theft and credit card fraud ring that operated primarily out of Las Vegas. Five of the 19 were arrested in Nevada; others were arrested in California, Florida, New York, Georgia, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, and West Virginia. Among the charges faced by the 19 are conspiracy, racketeering, and the production and trafficking of false identification documents and access-device cards.
Identity theft and fraud can potentially be prosecuted in federal court, state court, or both, depending on the circumstances involved and the offenses committed. A situation involving identity theft over state or international lines such as the one mentioned above, for example, is likely to be tried in federal court, but can also likely be tried in state court.
The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998 (Pub. L. 105-318) defines identity theft as the knowing transfer or use, without lawful authority, of another person’s identification with the intent to commit or assist in any unlawful activities that violate Federal law, or constitutes a state felony offense. This Federal violation can potentially lead to up to 20 years imprisonment. Federal sentencing guidelines take into account the:
- Number of victims involved;
- Harm or inconvenience caused;
- Number of identification documents involved; and
- Extent of loss experienced by the victims.
Under Nevada law (NRS § 205.463), a person can be convicted of identity theft if it is proven he or she obtains another person’s personal identifying information with the intent to commit an unlawful act with this information, and:
- Harms the other person;
- Represents or impersonates the other person without his or her consent to obtain access to personal identification information;
- Obtains access to nonpublic information and other activities or transactions of the other person without his or her consent; or
- Obtains credit, goods, services, or other items of value in the name of the other person.
A violation of this offense is classified as a category B felony, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and/or a fine up to $100,000.
Under NRS § 205.465, possession or sale of identity theft is considered a category C felony, punishable by a prison term ranging from 1 to 5 years and/or up to $10,000 in fines. If the victim of identity theft included an older person, vulnerable person, 5 or more persons, or caused a person to suffer $3,000 or more in losses, the offender can be convicted of a category B felony. The punishment could then result in up to 20 years in prison and/or a fine of not more than $100,000.
Even though the internet has made it easier than ever before to commit identity theft, the consequences of a conviction can be dire. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the alleged offense, a person can face prosecution at both a federal or state level. This can quickly turn a digital offense into a life-changing event, especially if an experienced criminal lawyer is not consulted as soon as possible after the arrest.
View more information on this and other Las Vegas fraud crimes in the following video:
The 2005-2010 study on identity theft in households can be found in PDF format on the U.S. Department of Justice website here (note: opens in new window).