What is Identity Theft?

by Ambrosio Rodriguez | Aug 13, 2018 | Identity Theft

After months of investigations, police in Los Angeles County finally arrested two men suspected to have stolen thousands of items from cars across San Fernando Valley. The two men, who are both in their mid-20s, have each been charged with several crimes of theft. Those charges included several counts of identity theft.

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft, which is defined in Penal Code 530.5 PC, is the crime of willfully taking another person’s personal information and using it for an unlawful purpose or to commit fraud.

Unlawful Purpose

Unlawful purposes include using that personal information to obtain (or attempt to obtain):

  • Credit
  • Goods
  • Services
  • Real property
  • Medical information.

In California, unlawful can include acts that aren’t actually illegal. Unlawful can extend to any act prohibited by law, including those classified as civil torts. If you use another person’s personal identifying information to commit a tort (e.g., libel, slander, intentional infliction of emotional distress), you could be charged with identity theft.


Identity theft can also involve willfully acquiring another person’s personal identifying information without their consent to commit a fraud. In California, fraud can be defined to mean either:

  1. Secure an unfair benefit, or
  2. Cause another person to suffer a loss or hardship.

If you commit fraud while using another person’s personal information, you can be charged with identity theft. This is true regardless of whether your attempt to commit fraud is successful. An example of fraud could involve collecting another person’s insurance or welfare benefits.

What is Personal Identifying Information?

Personal identifying information is defined in Penal Code 530.55 PC to include another person’s:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Phone number
  • Health insurance number
  • Taxpayer ID number
  • School ID number
  • Social Security Number
  • Driver’s license number
  • Employee ID number
  • PIN (personal identification number)
  • Password
  • Biometric data
  • Information on a birth or death certificate
  • Alien registration number
  • Credit card number
  • Checking or savings account number
  • Mother’s maiden name, and more.

Any piece of information that is unique and personal to another person will likely be classified as “personal identifying information.”

Who Can Be the Victim of Identity Theft in Los Angeles?

Penal Code 530.5 PC makes it a crime to acquire, sell, or distribute the personal identifying information of another person. Person is defined in Penal Code 530.55 PC to include:

  • A natural person (living or deceased)
  • Firms
  • Associations
  • Organizations
  • Partnerships
  • Business trusts
  • Companies
  • Corporations
  • Limited Liability Companies
  • Public entities, or
  • Any other legal entity.

Consequences of Identity Theft in California

Identity theft is a serious crime in Los Angeles that can carry harsh criminal, civil, and collateral consequences.

Criminal Penalties

Identity theft can be a misdemeanor or felony in California:

  • Misdemeanor: Maximum penalty of 12 months in jail and/or $1,000 in fines.
  • Felony: Maximum penalty of 3 years in state prison and $10,000 in fines.

If you are convicted of identity theft you may also be required to pay restitution to any of your victims and complete a term of supervised release (also known as probation).

Civil Penalties

When you steal another person’s personal information you may be vulnerable to civil charges. Your victims could file a lawsuit against you to recover anything you stole as well as monetary damages for any harms they suffered because of your actions.

Collateral Consequences

If you are convicted of identity theft it will show up on your criminal record. This record will stay with you forever unless and until you are able to seal or expunge your criminal past. When you have a criminal record, especially one reflecting a felony conviction, life can become incredibly difficult. This is because you will be subject to certain collateral consequences.

Collateral consequences are social and civil penalties that exist because you have been convicted of a crime. They are not necessarily related to your specific offense. The more serious your crime, the tougher the collateral consequences. These may include:

  • Difficulty keeping or finding a job
  • Difficulty securing a place to live
  • Inability to work in certain job fields, including education and healthcare
  • Ineligible to collect government welfare benefits, and
  • Increased likelihood of deportation for crimes of fraud.

Fighting Identity Theft Charges in Los Angeles

Have you been accused of committing identity theft in Los Angeles? If so, you have the right to defend yourself. The attorneys at the Rodriguez Law Group can help you fight to protect your future. We will argue any defense that helps to explain or justify your behavior. The stronger our arguments, the harder it will be for the state to build a strong case against you.

Defenses to identity theft can include:

  • You had consent when using another person’s information
  • You did not intend to break the law
  • You did not use the information for an unlawful purpose
  • You have been falsely accused of a crime, or
  • You have been mistakenly identified.

To learn more, call our Los Angeles criminal defense law firm at 213-995-6767 or visit our contact us page to send us an email.