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What is identity theft?

Identity theft, broadly defined, means using another person's identifying information or otherwise impersonating him or her in order to benefit financially. New York law also includes using another person's information in order to commit a crime or otherwise damage that person's reputation under the rubric of identity theft. Identity theft charges can result from a very wide range of activities from the unambiguously criminal to the arguably well-intentioned.

What kind of information is covered?

Many types of personal information covered by identity theft laws may well be easily available to the public. Someone else's name, phone number, street address, place of employment and birth date can be found fairly effortlessly. The criminality comes in when this information is used for illegal purposes. Other kinds of information are more difficult to find, such as social security numbers, account passwords, credit card numbers and fingerprints. In many cases, this information is used by close relatives or employees who come into possession of this information via their job duties. The law also includes a catch-all provision for any other type of information that can be used to assume another's identity.

Committing a crime in order to obtain identifying information can also lead to identity theft charges. This includes stealing documents, getting illegal access electronically and using a skimmer to read people's credit cards. In fact, just possessing a skimmer can lead to charges as there is not a use for it that is deemed legal under New York law.

What are some prohibited uses of personal information?

Information does not need to be obtained illegally for identity theft charges to ensue. If it is used to get something of value, cause damage to the person it was taken from or to commit a crime, identity theft laws will apply. For example, your grandfather entrusts you with his information to help him fill out a form. That is perfectly fine. However, using that information to pretend to be him to open a credit account can get you accused of identity theft. However, in some cases, even just having the personal information can get you arrested if you have no legitimate reason for having it. For example, it is normal for a person to have his or her children's Social Security numbers but not a few dozen random Social Security numbers.

What are the penalties for identity theft?

The penalties for identity theft can vary from relatively slight to extremely severe. Some factors that influence sentencing include the value of whatever was obtained through the theft, prior convictions on identity theft charges and whether or not a felony was involved. If you have concerns about possible or existing identity theft charges, consult a qualified attorney near you to learn more.

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