December 24, 2013 By Stephen Klarich

Identity Theft Punishment in California

identity theft punishment
Millions of California citizens are subject to Identity theft each year.

Identity theft and computer crime are typically prosecuted as fraud in California, and both offenses are usually “wobblers” – meaning the prosecutor has the option of charging you with a misdemeanor or a felony depending on:

  • The circumstances of the offense; and
  • Your criminal background.

You could face up to one year in jail and/or a maximum $5000 fine if you are convicted of misdemeanor fraud. A felony fraud conviction carries up to three years in jail and a maximum fine of $10,000.

You need to know that every time you use another person’s fraudulently obtained identifying information, you can be charged separately for each violation.  Therefore, these penalties apply to every occurrence of identity theft even if the offense is against the same person.

Federal prosecution for identity theft

Under title 18 U.S.C. 1028, identity theft is also a federal offense. Federal law reaches farther than California’s identity theft law and involves much more significant penalties.  In addition to the violations described above, it is a federal crime to do any of the following:

  1. Knowingly display someone else’s I.D.;
  2. Knowingly transfer stolen personal identification documents; and
  3. Knowingly produce, transfer, possess or traffic any equipment that will be used to produce false identification documents.

If you are convicted of federal identity theft fraud, you face up to 15 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 ($500,000 for an organization), or both.

Your face up to 20 years imprisonment if you commit identity theft while:

  • Facilitating a drug trafficking crime;
  • In connection with a crime of violence; or
  • After a prior conviction for identity theft;

You face an identity theft punishment of up to 40 years in federal prison if you commit this crime to facilitate an act of domestic or international terrorism.

What is considered identity theft?

In general, identity theft is defined as the taking of another person’s personal identifying information for an unlawful purpose. Under California Penal Code 530.5, the following four types of activities are illegal:

  1. Willfully obtaining the personal identifying information of another person without consent and for unlawful purposes;
  2. Acquiring or maintaining possession of another person’s identifying information without consent and with the intent to commit fraud;
  3. Selling, transferring or providing another person’s identifying information without consent and with the intent to commit fraud; and
  4. Selling, transferring or providing the personal identifying information of another person with knowledge that the information will be used to commit fraud.

What is “hacking”?

identity theft punishment - hacking

A common form of fraud involves unauthorized access to a computer, computer data, or a computer network, often with some unlawful purpose. This can be accomplished by breaking into a computer and manipulating its systems and/or data, commonly known as “hacking.”

Among other provisions, Penal Code Section 502, California’s “Computer Hacking” law makes it a crime to knowingly and without permission access a computer and take, alter, delete or destroy any data for the purposes of:

  • Devising or executing any scheme to defraud, deceive or extort; or
  • Unlawfully controlling or obtaining any money, property or data.

What can we learn from Target about I.D. theft?

A major breach of security at Target retail stores between November 27 and December 15, 2013 has compromised as many a 40 million credit and debit cards. The stolen data includes customer names, credit and debit card numbers, card expiration dates and possibly the three-digit security codes located on the backs of consumer’s cards.

Security breaches often involve hacking into a company’s computer systems and collecting the data. However, according to the Wall Street Journal, the Target theft “may have involved tampering with the machines customers use to swipe their cards when making purchases.” In other words, the Target hack appears to be an inside job.

The hack was apparently one of the largest credit card breaches in U.S. history, and occurred when a computer virus infected its point-of-sale terminals where shoppers swipe their credit or debit cards. It has been reported that credit and debit card information stolen in the Target hack is already available for sale on the black market.

Identity theft is epidemic. In 2012, 12.6 million U.S. adults were victims of identity theft, or one victim every three seconds. That figure represents 5.3% of U.S. adults, including over a 1.6 million Californians.

Identity theft is also expensive. The total cost of identity theft in 2012 was $21 billion. The average victim spent $365 and 12 hours to resolve the problem and clear up records. The number of victims increased 8% in 2012, up from 11.6 million in 2011.

Contact Wallin & Klarich today if you are facing identity theft punishment

Our attorneys at Wallin & Klarich have over 40 years of experience in both state and federal court successfully defending our clients facing fraud-related charges such as identity theft. Hiring an attorney from Wallin & Klarich to represent you is your best chance to avoid serious identity theft punishment including a jail or prison sentence, heavy fines, the loss of your professional license, and possible deportation if you are not a U.S. citizen.

With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, Our attorneys at Wallin & Klarich are available 24/7 to make certain all of your constitutional rights are protected. We will evaluate and employ every available strategy to obtain the best result possible in your case.

Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free telephone consultation. We will get through this together.

Insurance Journal: “Target Credit Card Breach a Reminder U.S. Lags in Personal Data Security”;


AUTHOR: Stephen Klarich

Stephen Klarich is a partner at Wallin & Klarich and expert in the field of sex crimes. For over thirty years, Stephen Klarich has been handling criminal cases and matters involving sex offenses. With an unparalleled knowledge of sex crimes defense, Stephen Klarich protects his clients’ rights. Stephen Klarich has experienced significant success in obtaining a Certificate of Rehabilitation or Governor’s Pardon for his clients. Thousands of clients have put their trust in Stephen Klarich and the attorneys at Wallin & Klarich in their time of legal need.

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