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An Overview of Texas Identity Theft Laws

Criminal Law Blog by The Law Office of Greg Tsioros

An Overview of Texas Identity Theft Laws

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Identity theft is a crime in Texas. It occurs when a person wrongfully makes use of another individual’s personal data to get goods, services, or things of value. Two primary laws apply to identity theft in Texas.

According to USA Today, almost 15.5 million people experienced some form of identity theft in 2016. This figure rose from about 13 million in 2015. It is a relatively new type of crime. In years past, Texas categorized this sort of criminal behavior as theft by deception, false impersonation, or forgery. For example, if a person steals another person’s wallet with the intent to wrongfully use credit or debit cards, to forge a check, or to apply for new credit using the victim’s Social Security number, he or she could face identity theft, credit card abuse, and forgery charges.

Unfortunately, identity theft continues to grow with the digitalization of commerce. More individuals steal the personal details of other people to commit identity theft. The crime of identity theft happens when one person uses another’s information to pretend he or she is the victim. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that one in 20 U.S. consumers will suffer identity theft this year.

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Identity Theft Crimes in Texas

Identity theft is expensive. At least 25,000 Texas citizens report identity theft. Thousands more aren’t aware that their bank accounts or financial information have been targeted and sold online.

Equifax’s recent disclosure than millions of Texans’ personal identifying information may be at risk makes it important for everyone to freeze their national credit reporting agency files at Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. (You will be charged a small fee by Experian and TransUnion to freeze your data.)

Because identity thieves use stolen personal identifiers to get new credit cards, loans, mortgages, utility accounts, and more, it’s important to monitor your personal data. If you’re a victim of identity theft in Texas, take these steps:

  • Report the identity theft crime to local law enforcement
  • Fill out identity theft affidavit forms (this will protect you from personally incurring losses that occurred because of identity theft
  • Contact your bank, card issuer, Department of Motor Vehicles, etc., to stop ongoing damage
  • Monitor your credit reports at Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion
  • Tell card issuers, banks, lenders, and national credit reporting agencies that you’re a victim of identity theft
Forms of personal identification used in identity theft

An identity thief targets certain forms of personal identity, such as Social Security Numbers, checking or savings account numbers at a bank or financial institution, credit card numbers, or account passwords.

Identity thieves commonly phone potential victims and claim to be a representative at your bank. The caller will ask for confirming information about your checking account by asking your Social Security number, address, date of birth, and so on. Shortly after you provide the information, you try to use the account and learn that it’s empty.

Later on, you learn that an identity thief has used the account information to apply for new credit cards in your name. You’ve lost the money in your checking account and owe an additional $20,000 in credit cards you didn’t request.

You’re now an identity theft victim.

Identity Theft Behavior

Identity theft and similar crimes involve a person other than the victim using personal data without consent for his or her gain. Identity theft might happen if:

  • An employee at your bank retrieves your account details and sells it to someone else.
  • A stranger picks up a credit card you dropped at the store and uses it to purchase goods or services.
  • An unknown person sends an email to you that’s supposedly from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The email demands that you provide personal data or suffer the consequences, e.g. an audit.
  • A person uses a public computer after you do. You didn’t sign out of your email account, so the individual opens your email, finds personal data in emails, and uses it to open a new mobile phone account.
  • A local refuse worker finds personal documents in your trash. He uses it to apply for new credit cards in your name.

Of course, think before you click a link in any email. The IRS won’t contact you by email. If you’re concerned, call any credit provider about your account.

Personal Identifiers and Sensitive Financial Information

Identity theft involves the use of personal identifiers, such as your name, Social Security Numbers, credit profiles and credit reports, driver’s license number, driver’s insurance cards, telephone numbers, fingerprints, bank routing number, government-issued identifiers, photographs, address, date of birth, relatives’ names, or other means of identification.

Personal identifiers are any type of data that, by itself, or when provided with other details, identify a specific person.

Fraudulent use and/or the possession of personal identifiers is a criminal act. Under Tex. Penal Code Ann. section 32.51, a person who obtains, transfers, possesses, or makes use of another person’s identifiers—without his or her consent and with intent to “harm or defraud” the victim can be found guilty of a crime. Depending on the specific circumstances, fraudulently using or possessing another person’s identifiers is a third-degree, second-degree, or first-degree felony.

Unauthorized Acquisition of Certain Financial Information in Texas

Under Texas Penal Code Ann. section 31.17, a person in Texas commits the crime of unauthorized acquisition or transfer of certain financial information if they obtain financial or payment card information via any recording, electronic, or photographic instrument, or when they provide or transfer information to other persons.

Information found on a credit or debit card magnetic strip, chip, check, credit card, or debit card is called financial sight order information. Thieves use financial sight order information to access account numbers, card issue dates, bank routing numbers, and more.

If convicted, the defendant faces a Class B misdemeanor offense (obtaining unauthorized acquisition) or a Class A misdemeanor (transfer of certain financial information).

Identity Theft Penalties in Texas

Each case is unique. Depending on the specific circumstances of the case, penalties for identity theft typically include significant fines and/or prison sentences:

  • Fines: A felony conviction for the fraudulent possession or use of identifiers can mean a maximum $10,000 fine. Misdemeanor convictions for the transfer of certain financial information or unauthorized acquisition can mean a maximum $4,000 fine.
  • Incarceration: If convicted of transfer of certain financial information or unauthorized acquisition in Texas, the defendant faces up to 12 months in jail. However, a conviction involving the fraudulent possession or use of personal identifiers can mean significant time behind bars—up to life in prison.
  • Restitution: When victims of identity theft experience financial losses as a result of identity theft, the court in Texas may also order restitution. Restitution is necessary to compensate victims for these losses. The amount ordered by the court depends on the theft amount.
  • Community Supervision/Probation: Texas courts may also sentence the offender to probation instead of jail time. In Texas, the community supervision sentence is at least 12 months, during which period the probationer must adhere to specific terms and conditions, including 1) report to a community supervision officer, 2) remain within the jurisdiction (unless written permission is received), 3) find/maintain employment, 4) complete required restitution payments, 5) pay court costs and/or fines in full, and 6) avoid committing new crimes.

Fraudulent Intent and Identity Theft

It’s possible to face identity theft charges even if you didn’t plan to use another person’s sensitive financial information to obtain goods, services, or something else of value. The law in Texas says that identity theft happens if you obtain, use, or possess another person’s information with the intent to make fraudulent use of that data at some later date, for your benefit.

For instance, you’re a waiter at an expensive restaurant. One of your customers provides his American Express card to pay the check. You write down his card number with the intent to use it to buy something online for yourself. In this example, you commit identity theft even if you don’t buy anything with the card number.

As you can see, acquiring another person’s card information may seem harmless enough until you follow through with the intent to use his or her information to acquire goods, services, or other benefits. Unfortunately, identity theft is an extremely serious situation.

Contact an Experienced Identity Theft Lawyer in Houston, TX

Depending on the specifics of your case, an identity theft conviction in Texas can translate to significant fines and years in prison.

Don’t risk it. Consult with The Law Office of Greg Tsioros as soon as you learn about an identity theft investigation or charge. Call Houston criminal defense attorney Greg Tsioros at 832-752-5972 to schedule an initial case evaluation now.

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