There are more than 10 million people victimized by identity theft in the United States each year, and identity theft is one of the most serious crimes in the country. It's a crime that targets not only your finances, but also your reputation. Years of good credit can be wiped away in a matter of hours, and it often takes years to rebuild.
Because this crime is so serious and because of the rapid rate at which it is growing, most states have implemented laws aimed at punishing identity thieves. On a federal level, the Identity Theft Penalty Act was signed by former President George W. Bush in 2004, requiring harsher punishments for those who would commit this type of crime.
The law was a landmark step in identity theft prosecution, and changed the former slap-on-the-wrist punishments to actual federal prison time. The law elevated the maximum federal prison sentence from three to five years, and added two years of jail time automatically for those found guilty of phishing.
In addition, aggravated identity theft was added to the list of offenses. Criminals can now be charged with more than one offense, garnering an additional two years added to their sentence. Under aggravated identity theft, any terrorist-related offenses will automatically mean an additional five years. There is a maximum of 25 years for this offense.
Most states have their own versions of identity theft laws, and depending on the nature of the crime, most states will have a series of charges that range from fines to misdemeanors to felonies. The most basic penalty is compensation for loss, while the penalties for more serious crimes can range from a $50,000 fine plus five years in prison to a $100,000 fine plus a minimum of 10 years in prison.
How can you fight back? The best thing you can do is make it hard for a criminal to get your information. Safeguard it, shred documents and be vigilant about checking your credit reports, as well as credit and bank statements. If you do become a victim, report it immediately. The quicker it's reported, the better your chances of finding the criminal and recouping your losses.