The internet has completely changed the way we shop online. Do you know that Cyber Monday has only existed since 2005? Yet, less than two decades later, it’s nearly taken over the Thanksgiving weekend as the biggest shopping day of the year.
There is a dark side to Cyber Monday, though. In a recent Experian survey, 16% of identity theft victims said that the theft occurred online during Cyber Monday. Another quarter of respondents noted they were victims of online theft some other time during the holiday season.
Identity theft is a serious charge in the state of Texas, and it’s becoming more common across the web. Understand what identity theft is, the related criminal charges, and why it’s important to fight charges if you are accused of theft during the holiday season.
What Is Identity Theft According to Texas Law?
Identity theft is self-explanatory; Most cases involve someone using another person’s personal information to make unauthorized purchases.
That said, Texas law calls identity theft by a few different names. There are two parts to the digital identity theft process and two crimes under the umbrella of “identity theft.”
Unauthorized Acquisition or Transfer of Certain Financial Information
The first crime covers accessing or transferring financial information to others without permission. “Financial information” covers information like:
- Debit card or credit card numbers
- Information from the magnetic strip on debit/credit cards
- Account numbers or routing numbers
- Date of card issuance
Fraudulent Use or Possession of Identifying Information
Identity theft charges also cover the theft of information related to a person’s identity, not just their assets. “Identifying information” includes information like a victim’s:
- Date of birth
- Social Security number
- Driver’s license number
If any of this information is obtained for the purpose of defrauding or harming the victim, the offender may be charged with this crime.
Penalties for Identity Theft Charges In Texas
These two different charges come with different penalties in Texas. Why? One is a misdemeanor offense and the other is a felony.
Obtaining Certain Financial Information is a Misdemeanor Offense
Unauthorized acquisition or transfer of certain financial information charges are typically a class B misdemeanor. They increase to a class A misdemeanor if the prosecution can prove that the financial information was transferred to someone else. If you are convicted of a misdemeanor crime, you may be sentenced to up to one year behind bars and up to $4,000 in fines.
Using or Possessing Identifying Information Results is a Felony Charge
Fraudulent use or possession of identifying information, however, is always a felony. The severity of the charge depends on how many people were victimized in the crime and what pieces of information were used.
State Jail Felony
Even if just three pieces of information is stolen, but stolen with the intent of defrauding the victim, the offender will face state jail felony charges. If you are convicted of a state jail felony, you may face up to two years in state prison and up to $10,000 in fines.
Felony in the First Degree
Fifty pieces of stolen information may result in first-degree felony charges. The penalties for a first-degree felony include between 5-99 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.
Defenses Against Texas Identity Theft Charges
Law enforcement officers know better than anyone about the prevalence of identity theft during the holiday season. Extra vigilance often leads to increased charges.
Luckily, there are ways to defend against identity theft charges and walk away from court without any penalties.
If a prosecutor cannot prove that you intended to defraud anyone with the information you possessed, for example, you may face less severe penalties or no penalties at all.
Other Types of Fraud Charges In Texas
“Unauthorized Acquisition or Transfer of Certain Financial Information” and “Fraudulent Use or Possession of Identifying Information” are not the only charges related to theft or the use of stolen information. Offenders may also face similar fraud charges, including:
- Credit card or debit card abuse
- Fraudulent use or possession of credit card or debit card information
- Issuance of a bad check
- Commercial bribery
- Fraudulent destruction, removal, or concealment of writing (on price tags, receipts, etc.)
It is possible to build a solid defense strategy against identity theft charges as long as you have the best eyes on your case. The right legal counsel can help you see this strategy play out, and help you leave the courtroom without serving time.
Don’t let accusations of identity theft or other white-collar crimes ruin the start of your 2020 year. Reach out to a Texas criminal defense lawyer for more information on how to defend yourself in court.
About the Author:
Brandon Fulgham has an in-depth understanding of both Texas law and Texans themselves. Before practicing law here, he received his undergraduate degree from TCU, and his law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston. After graduation, he worked in District Attorneys’ offices as a prosecutor, building cases designed to put people behind bars. Now, he uses that knowledge to protect the rights of people in and around Fort Worth, making sure they receive the strongest possible defense when they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. He has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, Fort Worth Magazine, and others.