While identity theft is nothing new, thanks to the internet and our growing dependence on technology and electronic communication, identity theft is skyrocketing. We are much more vigilant regarding identity theft now that we were in previous years. The state and federal governments have enacted legislation in order to aggressively combat this increase in identity theft crimes. In addition, law enforcement is under increasing pressure to charge defendants with identity theft, and more importantly, get convictions.
Identity Theft Under Tennessee Law
Identity theft is governed primarily by Section 39-14-150 of the Tennessee Code. The statute makes it illegal to do the following:
- Buy, use, obtain, possess, or sell the someone else’s personal information, which includes any information or data that can be used to identify a person;
- With the intent to commit any unlawful act such as obtaining credit, goods, or services in the name of someone else;
- Without that person’s consent or lawful authorization.
In order to convict you of identity theft, the prosecution needs to prove that you obtained someone else’s personal information with the intention of committing some unlawful act without their consent.
Identity theft is a serious crime. Under Tennessee law, identity theft is an automatic Class D Felony. This means that you are facing a prison sentence of two to 12 years and a fine of up to $5,000 if you are convicted. Generally speaking, the sentence and fines will increase according to how much harm was done to the victim.
Identity Theft Trafficking
Identify theft charges aren’t limited solely to instances of obtaining or using someone’s personal information. Tennessee law also makes it illegal to engage in “identity theft trafficking.” Identity theft trafficking is charged when (1) the defendant is alleged to have sold or otherwise transferred someone’s personal information without their consent; and (2) they knew or should have known that the information would be used for unlawful purposes.
For purposes of proving intent to engage in identity theft trafficking, Tennessee law expressly allows the jury to consider as evidence the fact that the defendant possessed the information of five or more people without their consent. To put it another way, having the personal information of five or more people is sufficient to charge you with identity theft trafficking.
Identity theft trafficking is a Class C Felony, punishable by a prison sentence of three to 15 years and up to $10,000 in fines. In comparison to simple identity theft, trafficking carries a potentially longer prison sentence and larger fines.
Common Types Of Identity Theft
There are many ways to commit identity theft and for a wide variety of purposes. Here are some examples of obvious instances of identity theft:
- Using a stolen credit card to make purchases online
- Using a stolen social security number and other information to apply for a loan
- Using a stolen ID in order to purchase alcohol
- Using stolen medical information in order to obtain health insurance coverage
- Using a stolen social security number in order to obtain a passport
The examples above are pretty straightforward, but it’s important to remember that identity theft isn’t always obvious. In addition, the prosecution has to prove that you have actually committed identity theft.
Identity Theft Defenses
If you’ve been charged with identity theft, it’s important to understand exactly what the prosecution has to prove – that you used someone else’s identity without their consent and with the intent to commit an unlawful act. Understanding the elements of identity theft can help you formulate a defense.
For example, you may be able to argue that there was a misunderstanding between you and the other person and you thought they had given you their consent. While this defense is difficult between two people who don’t know each other, it can be successful when the alleged identity theft occurred between friends or family.
You may also be able to argue that although you had the other person’s personal information without their consent, you did not intend to do anything with it. Intent can be difficult for the prosecution to prove, and they will have to rely on circumstantial evidence. That said, you should understand that the prosecution doesn’t have to prove that you actually committed an unlawful act, only that you intended to. Conversely, actually committing an unlawful act would be considered evidence of your intent.
If the alleged identity theft occurred in the context of a business transaction, you may be able to argue that you had the legal authority to access and use the other person’s personal information.
If You’ve Been Charged with Identity Theft, Contact Barnes & Fersten for Help
Identity theft is a serious crime that carries severe consequences. In addition to jail time and heavy fines, a felony conviction could ruin your reputation and even make it difficult to get a job. You’re probably feeling overwhelmed, but understand that you do not need to face these charges alone. An experienced criminal defense attorney can level the playing field and give you a fighting chance at a fair outcome.
At Barnes and Fersten Law, we understand that this isn’t just a case – this is your life. We provide dedicated, skilled legal representation so that you can face your charges with confidence. If you’d like to schedule a free consultation and case evaluation, call us at 865-805-5703 or complete our online contact form today.
Attorney At Law, Managing Partner
Brandon D. Fersten is an esteemed Knoxville attorney practicing DUI, criminal defense, and juvenile law. Known for his empathetic approach and commitment to his clients, he brings a record of favorable case outcomes including dismissals and not guilty verdicts at jury trials resulting in Brandon being recognized as one of the “Top 40 Under 40” in Criminal Defense, U.S. News’ Best Lawyers: “Ones to Watch,” and Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars”. Brandon’s professional accolades, combined with his passion for justice, position him as a reliable criminal defense advocate in the East Tennessee legal landscape.