Crimes involving the theft of personal information has steadily grown as conducting financial transactions over the internet has become routine for both consumers and businesses. Unsurprisingly, it turns out it is easier to find and take what does not belong to you and use it for your own benefit in the modern digital age. When it comes to protecting information that sensitive for your personal identification and financial security, the federal government has a zero tolerance policy.
Let’s say, you’ve recently fallen into financial trouble, which is normal for most people at some point in their life and especially during COVID-19, and you get the idea to make the large credit card companies fund your “personal bailout” by using the credit card you found in the wallet you pickpocketed off someone to buy a few things online. After all, those big credit card companies will end up paying for it and they can afford it, so where is the harm, right?
If you did that, you would be committing credit card fraud, as well as a few other serious crimes of both federal and state laws.
Adding to the scenario above, the person’s wallet also contained their bank account information, ATM card and PIN number, checkbook, tax ID and social security number. You decide you need cash now, so you withdraw cash from her account at the ATM and write yourself a few checks for later. Additionally, after seeing her bank account balance while at the ATM, you decide you could get probably some more money by using her name to apply for a few federal benefit programs you think she might qualify for.
The above paragraph contains multiple examples of identity theft, a very serious federal and state crime.
Additionally, it also illustrates that credit card fraud and identity theft are very closely related, and thus you often see indictments including both charges, as well as money laundering, and conspiracy to defraud the United States.
The federal statute for credit card fraud, also referred to as access device fraud, is 18 U.S.C. § 1029.
The federal statute for identity theft is 18 U.S.C. § 1028.
In addition to money laundering and conspiracy to defraud the United States mentioned above, you might see these either or both credit card fraud and identity theft charges in an indictment alongside charges for mail and wire fraud, and making false statements.
In this section we provide a brief breakdown of what the government must show to prove both credit card fraud and identity theft.
Under 18 U.S.C. § 1029, it is a federal criminal offense to knowingly, and with the intent to defraud:
The government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you did committed one of the ten listed acts above, did it willfully, knowingly, and with the intent to defraud, and that your conduct had an effect on interstate commerce.
Importantly, you commit an act knowingly, when you are aware and conscious of what you are doing, realize, understand, and appreciate the consequences of your actions and are not acting due to mistake, accident, or ignorance.
You act with an intent to defraud when you act intending to deceive, cheat, or swindle another person.
Under 18 U.S.C. § 1028, it is a federal criminal offense to knowingly,
Examples of identity theft include stealing another person’s:
Note that you commit identity theft regardless of whether you use the person’s information for financial gain or whatever you decide to do with it.
Importantly, you could face a separate charge for each use of fraudulently obtained personal identifying information, even if you obtained them from the same person at the same time.
Revisiting the scenario we discussed above, you now see how these can quickly add up and person can end up looking at spending years in federal prison and heavy fines for multiple counts of credit card fraud and identity theft.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) are the most likely agencies investigating persons suspected of credit card fraud and identity theft, as these two are the main law enforcement agencies of the federal government. Considering that this charge applies to entire involves consumers and financial transactions, you would most often see banks and other financial institutions, as well as parts of the federal government involved consumer protection and related fraud. This might likely include the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
The punishment for credit card fraud and identity theft most often includes an assessment of heavy fines and a term of imprisonment, but sentencing varies with each case’s unique set of facts, the presiding judge, and factors considered under the federal sentencing guidelines, which you can read more about here.
Yes, both credit card fraud and identity theft are felonies under federal law.
10 years is the maximum term of imprisonment and $250,000 is the maximum fine for credit card fraud under Section 1029 when it involves acts 1, 2, 3, 6, 7 or 10 in the statute.
15 years is the maximum term of imprisonment and $250,000 is the maximum fine for credit card fraud under Section 1029 when it involves acts 4, 5, 8, or 9 in the statute.
15 years is the maximum term of imprisonment for identity theft under section 1028, and $250,000 for individuals, or $500,00 for organizations, is the maximum fine for identity theft under section 1028.
20 years is the maximum term of imprisonment for identity theft under section 1028 when the identity theft is committed:
Every sentence in a federal cases is based on the federal sentencing guidelines, which considers a multitude of factors, such as prior criminal history, use of a gun, or position of trust, to calculate a recommended range that the federal judge may use as a guide for sentencing, however the presiding judge ultimately reserves final discretion at sentencing. Thus, as long as the judge provides a reasonable basis for their decision on record, the judge may make what is called a “departure from the guidelines” and sentence the defendant to a term of imprisonment outside the recommended range. You can learn more about the sentencing under the federal sentencing guidelines here.
Possibly, as it depends on the charges you are convicted of and the unique facts of your case. Ultimately, however, final discretion remains with the judge presiding over sentencing. Factors that also will help determine whether restitution will be required include whether there are victims of the convicted charges, whether those victims suffered compensable harm, the federal sentencing guidelines, and many more.
Possibly, as it again depends on the charges alleged in the indictment and the unique facts of your case As mentioned above, the charges and facts alleged in the indictment shape the scope of the entire criminal proceeding, including assets subject to pre-trial seizures and final forfeiture as part of sentencing, if convicted. You can learn more about the sentencing under the federal sentencing guidelines here.
See our news page for recent updates on COVID-19 fraud cases here.
You should only speak with law enforcement investigator regarding anything related to fraud, COVID-19 fraud, or any other related crime after you have spoken to a criminal defense lawyer. Period.
A common question from people involved in a criminal investigation is at what point can they finally clear their name and share their part of the story.
You have probably heard investigators, prosecutors, and others taking the situation out of context, bending the truth, and misunderstanding what actually happened. They are relying on people who are lying, and the whole situation is outrageous and humiliating for you.
You should know that the Fifth Amendment exists to protect anyone accused of a crime from incriminating themselves, and the truth is it takes only one split-second mistake to get unnecessarily tied up in a prolonged criminal investigation that will place a heavy financial and time-consuming burden for you and loved ones. Do not go swimming with sharks alone and without a cage.
You need to speak with a fraud or COVID-19 fraud defense attorney to obtain sound legal advice before you speak with federal fraud investigators, even if you think you have done nothing wrong.
You should contact a defense lawyer that has decades of experience handling criminal investigations before you engage with investigators. Balancing cooperation and protecting your constitutional rights and liberties requires a defense attorney that knows how to handle federal investigators.
If you have been contacted or anticipate contact from federal fraud or COVID-19 fraud investigators, then you should contact and speak with a federal fraud and COVID-19 fraud defense lawyer to protect yourself, your freedom, and financial stability. You will not be able to talk yourself out of the crosshairs – you’ll only be wound up in a web of investigation tactics.
You need a fraud defense lawyer who knows what they’re doing and has a proven track record of experience defending federal fraud cases. Schiffer law firm has over four decades of experience defending clients involved in federal criminal investigations and clients accused of federal crimes. The fraud defense lawyers at Schiffer law firm know how to handle federal fraud cases from first contact by investigators to overturning wrongful convictions on appeal.
Schiffer law firm attorneys has and continues to defend people needing fraud defense attorneys nationwide. Nobody is too small, and nowhere is too far. If you think you need to speak to a fraud defense attorney, give us a call today.