Identity theft investigations are labor intensive. Additionally, Individual identity theft cases are generally looked upon as too minor for federal prosecution. The difficulty lies in multiple jurisdiction situations. Professional identity theft criminals usually prey on more than one victim. They then spread their criminal activities over a wide range of locations. Their victims also tend to be oblivious of the crime until weeks or months have passed. At that point, they may be of little help to law enforcement officials. All of this boils down to the problem of identity theft proliferation. Many believe that this crime is growing so fast because the perpetrators are rarely brought to justice.
This situation has made the crime of identity theft a priority with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). It has also become a priority with the Departments of Treasury and Justice. Their goal is to determine effective means of investigation, prosecution and prevention. To this end, workshops have been conducted to assist in identifying best practices to deal with identity theft. This includes discussions on law enforcement strategy. The participants in these workshops include federal agents and prevention specialists. These specialists have also pointed out the need to reach out to the private sector. This would be designed to facilitate prevention and identification strategies.
When considering identity theft cases with large numbers of victims, there are some unique challenges. Investigative data requires direct communication with the victims. This includes obtaining restitution and loss information. When the case is complex, an immediate system for this type of communication is needed.
The assistant United States attorney (AUSA) will need to identify the best means of communication for each case. This will entail district website communications set up through the systems administrator. This is the established Internet link with the victims. This link can provide a data base access with current case updates. Victims will be notified about the website link through form letters and investigative surveys. Of course, the challenge is getting everyone to participate in the surveys.
Federal law applies to a number of identity theft situations. Some of these laws can be used effectively when prosecuting identity theft cases. Other federal laws are designed to help victims of identity theft repair their credit histories. The main federal statute that was enacted to address identity theft came about in October of 1998. This is statute 18 U.S.C. § 1028(a)(7) and it is part of the Identity Theft Act. This particular addition to the original Identity Theft Act addresses fraud in connection with identity theft. The fraud may be prosecuted even if fraudulent documents are not involved. Therefore, any use of another’s identity for unlawful purposes may be prosecuted.
An indictment was cited in a July, 2006 report submitted by Eliot Spitzer, a New York Attorney General. The indictment stated that a Bronx, NY resident fraudulently obtained over $300,000 in insurance commissions. The insurance policies that were sold and the commissions obtained were done in another man’s name.
Gabriel Feliz was charged with: identity theft, grand larceny, scheme to defraud, forgery, falsifying business records, offering a false instrument for filing and unlawfully duplicating computer-related material. All-in-all, there were 34 indictment counts in this case.
The counts allege that Feliz took the state insurance licensing exams under another man’s name as well as his own. This was in 1993 when test applicants were not photographed. Thousands of insurance policy applications were submitted to insurance companies under the stolen identity. The scam lasted for over 10 years. Periodically, the fraudulent broker’s license was renewed under the stolen identity. The commissions were sent to Feliz under the other individual’s name. The commission checks were also fraudulently endorsed under the stolen ID. Therefore, tax payments were avoided. If convicted, Feliz could receive five to 15 years imprisonment.
The above example indicates that identity theft can be used commit other crimes. However, the primary goal of the identity theft criminal is to obtain fraudulent credit. The goal of identity theft prosecution is to place the charges under various criminal statutes. These include:
• Computer fraud
• Mail fraud
• Identification fraud
• Financial institution fraud
• Wire fraud
• Mail theft
• Immigration document fraud
An example of this may involve identity theft that is used to obtain fraudulent credit on the Internet. This can be prosecuted under computer fraud. The minimum sentence for conviction of this charge is six months imprisonment. Other sentences can range up to 25 years imprisonment (with associated fines) for identity theft convictions that involve terrorism. Of course, other charges would apply beyond the identity theft.