Flip through your local newspaper or log onto the website of your local news station, and you'll likely find stories covering new incidents of ID theft. This crime has grown rapidly during the past decade. The Federal Trade Commission received 86,250 identity theft complaints in 2001, compared with 250,854 complaints last year, according to its March 2011 Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book.
Identity thieves have become more effective with their schemes in recent years, often avoiding detection for months. However, since the signing of the Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act in July of 2004 by President George W. Bush, identity thieves who are nabbed by law enforcement now face much more stringent penalties for their illegal behavior.
The 2004 legislation was designed to hold identity thieves accountable for their actions.
As a result of the law, a person can now be convicted of aggravated identity theft in addition to identity theft. This means they could receive an extra two years in prison for "knowingly transferring, possessing, or using, without lawful authority," another person's identity in conjunction with certain felony violations — theft by a bank officer or employee, theft from employee benefits plans, theft of public property and a variety of offenses connected to fraudulent use of Social Security and Medicare benefits.
Criminals could face an extra five years in prison if they commit identity theft as part of a terrorist plot or scheme. Individuals convicted of aggravated identity theft cannot receive probation.
The law enforces greater punishment on individuals who abuse a position of power in order to commit ID theft. For example, a payroll operator at a company who uses his access to people's personal information to commit fraud will receive harsher penalties.
Punishments at this level vary depending on the state and the details of each particular case. Identity thieves could face penalties ranging from relatively small repercussions — a fine or a misdemeanor charge — to costly fines and jail time.
Generally, convicted identity thieves will be responsible for repaying victims who lose money as a result of the crime. In addition, penalties in certain states may include a $100,000 fine on top of the criminal's repayment amount.
If you're interested in learning more about the various state-level penalties, you can check out this comprehensive list compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures.