Identity theft victims face a number of short and long-term effects when a criminal assumes their good name. The financial cost alone, to repair what an identity theft stole, could reach the thousands. Consumers will also spend hours calling and writing to credit bureaus, lenders, banks and the police department. And lastly, they may simply be left feeling vulnerable. For these reasons, judges who preside over identity theft cases are bringing down harsher sentences on criminals who commit this crime.
In an interview with ex-prosecutor and current member of Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Kim Peretti, government security information website GovinfoSecurity.com notes that more judges are hoping that stiffer punishments and extended jail time will send a message to cyber-criminals and international crime rings that identity theft will not be tolerated.
"I prosecuted these types of cases for eight years, and earlier on when we would get to the sentencing stage for these particular cases of credit and debit card theft, we would see the judge have a particular sentencing range before him or her and emphasize special deterrence rather than general deterrence. In emphasizing special deterrence earlier on, the individuals were more likely to get very, very light sentences or probation," Peretti told the website.
But this may no longer be the case. Although the penalties for committing identity theft were toughened in 2004 after the implementation of the Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act, most laws vary on a state-to-state basis and there is no one universal punishment for these crimes. Sentences may vary from extended jail time to probation. This is largely because they are taken on a case-by-case basis.
More than 11 million Americans are affected by identity theft each year. This figure includes financial, medical and child identity theft crimes. As technology becomes more of a cornerstone for completing banking and credit card transactions, consumers should be diligent about updating their security and anti-virus software and refraining from posting personal information online to lower their risk. Obtaining a copy of their credit report each year to examine for accuracy may also help consumers better detect suspicious activity.