Understanding the federal laws against identity theft

In the wake of the Equifax breach earlier this year-which compromised the personal information of half of all Americans-identity theft has become a growing concern. "Identity theft" refers to the crime of fraudulently taking and using of someone's personal data for personal gain. Today we examine the federal legislation surrounding this crime:

The statutes

There are two federal statutes that address identity theft: 18 USC 1028 (established in 1998 as part of the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act) and 18 USC 1028A (established six years later).

Federal law only acknowledges the crime of identity theft when it occurs as an aid to another, main crime. This means that in order to be found guilty of identity theft under either statute, you must be found to have used someone's personal information fraudulently in conjunction with another crime. The types of main crimes that must accompany identity theft-as stipulated by the statutes-are outlined below:

· 18 USC 1028: any federal crime; any state or local felony

· 18 USC 1028A: some federal crimes; crimes of terrorism

Sentencing

In many other types of cases, if you're found guilty of multiple crimes, your sentences often run concurrently. This means that if, for example, you're sentenced to four years in prison for one crime and two years for another, you'll serve both sentences at the same time (i.e., you'll serve just four years).

In the case of identity theft, though, the law states that sentences must run consecutively. The prison sentence for aggravated identity theft is two years. This means that you'll first serve the sentence of the main crime plus two years on top of that.

The exception to this rule is instances where someone is convicted of multiple counts of aggravated identity theft. In such case, the court may allow each of those two-year sentences to be served concurrently.

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