The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported that Florida residents reported a loss of $331,282,322 from fraud in 2021. The highest number of complaints were related to identity theft. In the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metro area alone, there were 11,880 identity thefts reported in 2021.
Federal and state authorities have responded to the wave of identity thefts by enacting laws providing stiff penalties for those who commit this crime, including large fines and long prison sentences. In Florida, criminal penalties for identity theft include mandatory minimum periods of incarceration.
How identity theft fraud can occur is almost unlimited in contemporary society. But not every alleged use of someone else’s personal information is a crime. To be convicted of this offense in Florida, the prosecution must prove two very important elements, among others; a) the defendant’s possession or use of the information was unauthorized, and b) the defendant had fraudulent intent. Of course.
If you or your family member are accused of an identity theft crime, an experienced criminal defense lawyer will challenge the evidence and aggressively advocate on your behalf.
What is Identity Theft?
In Florida, identity theft is called “fraudulent use of personal identification information” and is defined as willfully and without authorization using or possessing the personal identification information of another person with the intent to defraud. It is generally a third-degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison, 5 years of probation, a $5,000 fine plus forfeiture of any instrument used to commit the offense, and full restitution. The same penalty applies when the defendant created a fictitious name or identity to commit the offense.
If $5,000 or more is involved in the identity fraud offense, or if it involves the personal identification information of more than 10 but less than 20 people, then the crime is a second-degree felony penalized by incarceration for a mandatory minimum sentence of 3 years and a maximum of 15 years. Fines of up to $15,000 and court-ordered restitution can also be imposed.
In any identity theft crime involving $50,000 or more or relating to the personal identification information of more than 20 but less the 30 people, Florida law first-degree felony penalties apply, including up to 30 years in prison. But a conviction for this level of identity theft must include a mandatory 5-year prison term.iv
And any conviction for identity theft in which $100,000 or more is involved or relating to more than 30 people’s personal identification information, a mandatory minimum 10-year prison term is required by law.v The sentence can be as high as 30 years.
It’s also important to remember that anyone convicted of violating the Florida identity theft law can also be ordered to pay for the alleged victim’s attorney fees incurred to correct records, accounts, ledgers, or any other damages they suffered because of the defendant’s identity fraud.
Nonfinancial Motive — If someone uses another person’s identification information for harassment and not to obtain any financial benefit or avoid debt, then the identity theft will be treated as a first-degree misdemeanor and the maximum penalty is limited to one year in prison or probation and a $1,000 fine. While less serious than the felonies described above, this misdemeanor can be unwittingly committed by young people who are angry and who don’t appreciate how deep into trouble this behavior can put them.
Signing into another person’s Facebook account to post something that will bring them embarrassment may sound mischievous but not criminal. As you see, in Florida it is a crime and can result in a permanent criminal record or conviction.
What Can Stechschulte Nell Do to Help Defend You?
As you can see by the many circumstances that can make matters much worse for a defendant charged with any identity fraud under Florida law, experienced criminal defense lawyers know all the details about every one of the potential aggravating factors. Prosecutors rarely pass up an opportunity to increase the number of counts against any defendant. Prosecutors also believe that the higher the severity of the crime charged, the more likely the defendant is to negotiate a plea so they can avoid the high risks of a jury trial.
Stechschulte Nell works continuously to accomplish several goals for each client:
- examine every bit of prosecution’s evidence for weakness, inconsistency, and unreliability,
- stay alert to signs of the prosecution’s doubts about their own witnesses,
- press defense motions seeking to exclude any evidence obtained improperly by the prosecution,
- develop defense evidence contradicting the prosecution theory of the case,
- assess the strength of our client’s case and their likelihood of winning at trial,
- continue efforts to obtain prosecution concessions and explore alternative dispositions favorable to the client,
- maintain complete, honest transparency with our client about the state of the case,
- provide our best professional legal counsel to our clients to assist them in deciding what is the best path forward for them considering all the foregoing.
Simply put, our criminal defense lawyers will stand for you, stand with you, and stand by you. Contact our Tampa – St. Pete area office today if you are facing identity theft or other financial crime allegations.
Circumstances That Will Increase Identity Theft Penalties
The legislature decided that committing identity theft fraud in some circumstances is more worthy of punishment, perhaps because of the ease with which some information can be accessed or because some vulnerable victims are deserving of greater protection.
These are the sentence enhancements that will apply if your identity theft case involves these circumstances:
- use of any public record to facilitate the crime: raises the offense level to the next highest degree of severity (first-degree misdemeanor becomes a third-degree felony, third-degree felony becomes a second-degree felony, etc.);
- pretending to be a law enforcement officer, an employee or representative of a bank, credit card company, credit reporting, or credit counseling agency to obtain or use personal identification information will raise the original offense level to the next highest degree, even if the next level of severity means the new sentence is life in prison,
- the victim is under 18 years of age or 60 years old or more is a second-degree felony regardless of the amount of money involved in the theft;
- the defendant is a parent or has a legal guardian relationship with a victim under 18 or 60 years of age or older is a second-degree felony;
- use of a deceased person’s identity information or a dissolved business entity commits a specific crime which is a third-degree felony;
-offense involves $5,000 or more than 10 and less than 20 deceased persons or dissolved businesses, the crime is a second-degree (max. 15 yrs.) felony with a mandatory minimum 3-year prison sentence;
-offense involves $50,000 or more than 20 and less than 30 deceased persons or dissolved business entities, then the guilty party has committed aggravated fraudulent use of the personal identification information, a first-degree (max 30 yrs.) felony, and a mandatory minimum 5-year prison term;
-offense involves $100,000 or more than 30 deceased persons or dissolved businesses is a first-degree (max 30 yrs.) felony with a 10-year mandatory minimum prison sentence
- if the identity used is of a disabled person, a federal or Florida government employee, a veteran, a public servant, or a first responder, the crime is a second-degree felony with a 15-year maximum prison sentence.
Federal Identity Theft Crimes and Prosecutions
Florida and other states are not the only governments with strict laws prohibiting identity theft fraud. The U.S. federal government can also prosecute offenses that fit the federal statute.
Penalties for violation of the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998 include prison terms of up to 15 years in federal prison in addition to supervised release, forfeiture, and fines. But the penalties become more severe if the defendant had a prior identity fraud conviction, or the alleged crime involves drug trafficking, a violent crime, or international terrorism.
The most complicating factor with a federal identity fraud indictment is the likelihood that other federal crimes will accompany the ID theft offense.
Under federal statutes, in addition to very large fines,
- credit card fraud convictions carry up to 15 years in prison,
- mail fraud convictions carry up to 20 years in federal prison
- bank fraud convictions carry up to 30 years in federal prison.
Learn More> Defending Against Fraud Charges in Florida
Facing Identity Theft Charges?
Whether you face identity theft or related financial crime charges in Florida state court or the United States District Court, you need to contact and work with an experienced identity fraud and financial crimes defense lawyer. At Stechschulte Nell, we are ready to fight for your liberty. Call us today for a case review; 813-280-1244.