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Identity theft generally means using someone else’s name, social security number, driver’s license number or other personal indentifying information (such as an e-mail address or internet password) to obtain money or property by posing as that other individual. However, it is illegal to even possess someone’s identity information if it has been stolen.

Although identity theft is specifically addressed in Section 530.5 of the California Penal Code, the term “Identity Theft” covers a wide range of cases, and may be punishable under several different provisions of the California Penal Code. This can include Penal Code Section 470 (Forgery), Section 487 (Theft), Section 484 (Possession/Use of stolen or forged ATM or Credit Card) and even Penal Code Section 118 (Perjury) if tax, DMV, welfare, or other government documents are falsely or improperly signed under oath to facilitate the identity theft.

There are several different types of identity theft:

Obtaining someone’s credit card (or checks) without their permission and using it (them) to obtain money or property;

Using someone’s ATM card to obtain money without their permission;

Using someone’s identity information to make fake checks, credit cards, or ATM cards;

Using someone’s identity information to buy, sell or borrow against a house, car, boat, watch, jewelry, or other expensive property;

Using someone’s identity information to obtain health insurance benefits, or public assistance (welfare)

Some people regard identity theft as a “minor” or “harmless” crime, thinking that the real victim is the lender or the bank, that the bank is very rich, and that the bank will make good the loss on the credit card or ATM card or forged check(s).

Most judges do not view identity theft as a “harmless crime” and being accused of identity theft can expose you to a very long prison sentence, even if you have no prior record.

If you are caught in a car, house, apartment or motel room that contains stolen identity information, you may be in very serious trouble, and you need advice from an experienced attorney.