Identity Theft Easier Than Ever


Identity TheftWith the explosion in social networking and business conducted online, it’s easier than ever to steal someone’s identity. To fight that, prosecutors are taking a more aggressive approach in how they use Wisconsin’s identity theft laws.

In a recent article in the Wisconsin Law Journal, Milwaukee County District Attorney John T. Chisholm was quoted as saying, “I think the reason behind that is because the implications of identity theft in the Internet age are so much greater… I’ve known some prosecutors who have been victimized themselves and it can take years to restore credit.”

Defense attorneys argue that in some instances, identity theft laws are too broadly applied in place of lesser theft charges. For example, the statute states that unauthorized use of an individual’s personal identifying information or documents is a Class H felony punishable by up to a $10,000 fine, six years in jail, or both.

Prior to the rise in identity theft awareness, a case where someone takes a credit card and charges $100 at a store would usually result in a misdemeanor theft charge where the offender would pay restitution and a fine. Now the same crime may result in a felony charge.

According to the article, the law gives prosecutors added leverage, and the expanded use of identity theft laws can include things like signing someone else’s name on a check, which many people don’t realize is form of identity theft.  Some less serious crimes are now charged as identity theft that probably would not have been before.

The statute is broad, agrees Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard, but isolated instances, such as giving a false name or birth date to police, probably wouldn’t be charged as a felony.

Prosecutors are likely to evaluate intent by an offender and damage to a victim, monetary or otherwise, when determining whether a crime warrants felony charges. However, there could be more opportunities to apply the identity theft statute given the rise in people sharing information online.

“If someone has done an Internet search and picked a victim out, to me that is felonious,” stated Blanchard. Unique situations are also popping up, such as a case recently referred to Blanchard’s office which involved a man from Michigan who stole the face and body of a Wisconsin man to use on a singles website.

Fraud investigators say people don’t always realize what types of information can put them at risk of identity theft, especially online. A common security question for online accounts is asking for the account holder’s mother’s maiden name. If that person has their mother as a friend on Facebook, and she’s using her maiden name in her username, it can be pretty easy to put two and two together.

The ease of stealing somebody’s identity means people must be more vigilant nowadays.

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One Response to “Identity Theft Easier Than Ever”

  1. Mister Reiner Says:

    One of my financial institutions realized a few years ago that asking for a mother’s maiden name is no longer a good security question and have switched over to pin number. Other institutions need to get away from using this question as well.

    Institutions need to take a more proactive role in confirming people’s identity. The onus of protecting identities cannot just be left up to individuals. That’s why the National Strategy for Trusted Identities is such a great idea.

    The world needs to change how it does business and confirms identities, not just how it prosecutes criminals. We need to focus on the root cause of the problem.


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