Identity Theft 101

Though identity theft crimes are not inherently violent, they are still treated like any other felony in North Carolina. In this article, we will cover some of the basics and detail what you can expect if you find yourself facing an identity theft charge.

How is Identity Theft Defined in North Carolina?

In North Carolina, identity theft is codified by N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-113.20. The statute provides in relevant part that the crime of identity theft has occured when a person:

  1. Knowingly
  2. Obtains, possesses, or uses identifying information of another person, living or dead
  3. With the intent to fraudulently represent that the person is the other person
  4. For the purposes of making financial or credit transactions in the other person's name, to obtain anything of value, benefit, or advantage, or for the purpose of avoiding legal consequences.

Each of these elements must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to convict an accused of identity theft. The second element refers to the term “identifying information,” which is further explained by the statute as including all of the following: social security or employer taxpayer identification numbers; drivers license, state identification card, or passport numbers; checking or savings account numbers; credit or debit card numbers; digital signatures; biometric data; fingerprints; and passwords. Even someone’s parent’s maiden name is considered identifying information under North Carolina law.

What is the Punishment for Identity Theft Crimes?

Charges vary for identity theft crimes from Class G to Class E felonies. For most identity theft crimes, Class G felony charges apply. However, there are a few special circumstances that elevate charges to either a Class F or Class E felony.

If the victim suffers arrest, detention, or conviction as a proximate result of the identity theft crime or if the accused is in possession of the identifying information pertaining to three or more separate persons, then the accused can be charged with a Class F felony. Additionally, if the accused has trafficked in stolen identities, the offense is punishable as a Class E felony. Trafficking in stolen identities is the act of selling, transfering, or purchasing the identifying information of another person with the intent to commit identity theft, or to assist another person in committing identity theft.

For Class G felonies, sentencing ranges from a minimum of six months to a maximum of thirty-one months in jail or prison. Furthermore, Class F felonies are punishable by ten to forty-one months in jail or prison, while Class E felonies are punishable by fifteen to sixty-three months in prison.

What Should I Do if I am Charged with an Identity Theft Crime?

If you find yourself facing arrest for an identity theft charge, the first thing you want to do is comply with officers while being arrested. Part of complying with law enforcement is understanding that you have the right to not incriminate yourself under the Fifth Amendment. You have the right to remain silent, and officers should remind you of this right when they read your Miranda rights. Your next step is to retain a criminal defense attorney who is knowledgeable about identity theft crimes. Once you have representation, you can begin to consider defenses to your specific charge and what the appropriate course of action is in your defense.

The following defenses are generally available to people accused of identity theft crimes:

  • Entrapment - Applies when law enforcement has induced you to commit a crime that you otherwise would not have absent police intervention.
  • Mistaken identity - Applies when law enforcement has identified the wrong suspect to a crime.
  • You are the victim of identity theft - If you have been incorrectly charged by police because you are the victim of an identity theft crime.
  • The State has not proven all elements of the crime - Typically, the most difficult element to prove in an identity theft charge is the accused’s intent to use the stolen identity for fraudulent purposes.

Before ever going to trial or entering a plea, however, the best thing you can do to prepare for an identity theft charge is to contact a criminal defense lawyer who can advise you of all your options.