How Are Identity Thieves Punished?

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information without your permission. Punishment for identity theft can vary as vastly as the crime itself. And, with the FTC estimating nearly 9 million Americans falling victim to this crime each year, from someone renting an apartment with your Social Security number or establishing utilities in your name, what kind justice is being served? From State and Federal laws to what you can do to help, learn how identity thieves are punished.

Federal Penalties

Beginning in 2004, the Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act was signed to impose tougher penalties on criminals who knowingly use someone else’s personally identifying or financial information for their own gain. According to the Social Security Administration, the Federal law allows a court to tack on two years of additional jail time for criminals who knowingly use, possess, or transfer a victim’s personally identifying or financial information without legal right in conjunction with another Federal crime. And, offenders can receive five extra years in prison when identity theft is committed as part of a terrorist conspiracy.

State Laws

Just as each state can have its own definition of identity theft, penalties vary from a state level, from fines or misdemeanor charges to felonies and jail time. Commonly, identity thieves are required to repay monies lost due to the crime in addition to imprisonment and fines, which can reach an upwards of $100,000. For example, in West Virginia, impersonation of another is a crime worth 5 years in jail, up to a $1,000 fine or both, while Vermont penalizes fraudsters with up to 10 years in jail, a $2,000 fine or both for the same offense according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

What You Can Do

To minimize the damage identity theft can have, check your credit report for signs of fraud and enroll in a credit monitoring service to stop the damage quickly. Then, when signs of identity theft are spotted, be sure to report the crime quickly to local law enforcement to ensure the identity thief pays for the crime. Finally, contact the three national credit bureaus to pull a free copy of your credit report when you’ve become a victim of fraud and consider adding a fraud alert to your credit report to hinder further fraud.

The best way to help punish identity thieves is to minimize the opportunity criminals have to steal your identity. Be selective with whom you share your personally identifying information, how you dispose of statements and bills and where you keep important documents. However, it is still your responsibility to educate yourself on your state’s particular laws to ensure that you know how identity thieves are punished should find yourself a victim of fraud.

This article is provided for general guidance and information. It is not intended as, nor should it be construed to be, legal, financial or other professional advice. Please consult with your attorney or financial advisor to discuss any legal or financial issues involved with credit decisions.

Published by permission from, Inc.  © 2013, Inc.  All rights reserved.