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How Serious Are Identity Theft Charges?

Surreal image as an adult online anonymous internet hacker with invisible face stand with crossed hands and question mark instead head, hiding his identity. Matrix number codes personal data thief.

Identity theft is a hot topic these days. Most people typically think of identity theft as when a hacker or a foreign scammer takes your information and then uses it to steal all of your money. While this could be a case of identity theft, in reality identify theft encompasses much more. Under California law, there are multiple definitions of what identity theft entails. To complicate matters, identity theft charges are similar to, and brought up alongside, other criminal charges. In this article, we’ll lay out in simple terms what identity theft means, what it is similar to, and why you should find experienced legal help if you are charged with this crime.

Identity Theft Definition

In layman’s terms, identity theft is the act of obtaining personal identifying information without consent for an unlawful purpose. Under California Penal Code 530.5 PC, there are four definitions of what qualifies as identity theft:
  • Willfully obtaining a person’s personal identifying information and using that information for an unlawful purpose without consent.
  • Acquiring or retaining possession of another person’s information without consent with the intent to commit fraud.
  • Selling, transferring, or providing personal identifying information without consent with fraudulent intent.
  • Knowingly selling, transferring, or providing personal information without consent while actively knowing it will be used to commit fraud.
Note that while fraud is mentioned in the second, third, and fourth definitions, it is not used in the first meaning, so that fraud is not necessarily a requirement for identity theft. For example, if you receive an email containing someone’s information to their Facebook account and then access their account and post sexually explicit comments in their name on their friends’ walls, even for purely comical reasons, you could be charged with identity theft.

Fraud and Similar Charges

Although it is similar, fraud is often mistaken for identity theft. Under California law, fraud is defined as actions that result in an unfair benefit for the defendant and/or harm another person or cause them a loss. In addition, identity theft charges can easily come with other criminal charges. Some common ones include:
  • Conspiracy
  • Forgery
  • Elder Abuse
  • Theft
Any additional charges come with their own punishments that are added to the identity theft charge if the defendant is convicted.


Identity theft in California is known as a wobbler offense, meaning that it is a crime that could be punished as either a misdemeanor or as a felony. If punished as a misdemeanor, the defendant could face up to a year in county jail and up to a $1,000 fine. If punished as a felony, the defendant could face three years in jail and up to a $10,000 fine.

Legal Help

Facing an identity theft charge is nearly impossible if you don’t have experienced legal help. As there are numerous definitions as well as the potential for multiple charges for a number of crimes, forming a defense on your own is ill-advised.  If you find yourself charged with identity theft, don’t leave your case to chance. Contact The Law Office of Bradley Corbett today and make sure your rights are protected.

Bradley Corbett

Bradley Corbett is a criminal defense attorney in San Diego. He graduated from Brigham Young University in Provo Utah in 2004. Later he enrolled at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego where he participated in a prestigious internship program with the Los Angeles County Public Defender. Since then he has handled over 2,000 cases.

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Don’t wait until it is too late! Delaying or even denying yourself the counsel and strength we can provide you could have life changing consequences. Call us today and let an experienced San Diego criminal defense attorney help you protect your freedoms, life, and family.

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