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When you think of “identity theft,” what comes to mind? Walking the streets as someone else? Individuals charged with identity theft in Tennessee may be surprised to learn that federal and state identity theft laws cover more than putting on a virtual mask. Instead, you can be charged with “identity theft” in Tennessee if you knowingly obtain, possess, buy, or use the “personal identifying information of another” with unlawful intent. Sometimes even use of such information with the consent of the owner can be classified as identity theft. For example, using a friend’s insurance card to obtain needed healthcare services.
Tennessee’s identity theft laws are ever changing as technology continues to evolve. These broad criminal statutes are designed to cover nearly all conceived criminal uses for personal identifying information. In fact, sometimes these statutes are “overbroad” such that they can impact your constitutional rights. Identity theft, whether physical or virtual, is a complex charge that requires a Tennessee criminal defense attorney familiar with litigating Tennessee cyber crimes cases.
The experienced Knoxville identity theft defense attorneys at Barnes Law offer free and confidential identity theft defense consultations. Whether you’ve been charged in Tennessee federal or state court, call us today at (865) 805-5703 or contact us online to maximize your identity theft defense.
Under the Tennessee Identity Theft Victims’ Rights Act of 2004, identity theft must be knowing, intentional, and committed with unlawful intent. This means the government must prove something subjective, i.e., your mindset, with evidence sufficient to establish these factors “beyond a reasonable doubt.” It’s not enough that you were found to “possess” another’s personal identifying information. There must be evidence of the intent for which it was obtained and used. Further, the government must prove that any use of the information was unlawful. This can mean the information was used without permission or used against the law. Sometimes the owner of a credit card, i.e., a father, gives permission for another, i.e., his daughter, to use it for personal items. This is not identity theft. However, giving your cousin permission to use your driver’s license after he loses his own is identity theft because he does not have lawful authority to drive with your license.
The information obtained must also qualify as “personal identifying information.” In Tennessee this means “any name or number that may be used, alone or in conjunction with any other information, to identify a specific individual.” The statute gives the following non-exclusive examples of personal identifying information:
The definition of personal identifying information has expanded to include biometric data primary due to smartphone technology. Using a fingerprint or voice command to make an unauthorized purchase through a cell phone or home service device can be identity theft in Tennessee.
The majority of identity theft crimes consist of using personal identifying information to obtain money, goods, credit, services, or medication. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly 85% of all identity theft cases involve the misuse of a bank account or credit card, including using personal information to open a new financial account in another’s name.
You may be charged with both identity theft and identity theft trafficking in Tennessee. While identity theft is the direct, illegal use or possession of personal identifying information, identity theft trafficking occurs when you illegally sell, transfer, give, trade, loan, or deliver personal identifying information to someone for the purpose of unlawful use. You must deliver this information knowing that it was obtained illegally and is being transferred for an illegal purpose. It is enough that circumstances dictate the information is probably being obtained for illegal purposes. It is also illegal to possess personal identifying information with the intent to transfer the same even if you haven’t done so yet. For example, even if you have permission to use your grandmother’s credit card, giving it to your friend to use without your grandmother’s permission is identity theft trafficking.
Identity theft trafficking in Tennessee is a serious cybercrime as the government likely assumes you’re engaged in a criminal enterprise. Trafficking can carry heavier criminal penalties than a conviction for identity theft alone.
While technology has expanded the definition of identity theft, it’s also made some cases harder to prosecute. Most financial identity theft is not physical. Instead, it consists of siphoning credit card or account numbers from the internet. Many computers have “autofill” financial options and common online marketplaces have default payment information. Family members or housemates who share computers and/or online shopping accounts often accidentally use another’s financial data to make purchases. This unintentional use doesn’t qualify as identity theft in Tennessee. The use must be knowing and intentional to be criminal. You may be subject to civil penalties for negligently utilizing another’s personal information, but the government must prove that you did so knowingly in order to press criminal charges. Defeating the elements of identity theft such as proving the information was mistakenly used, is a common defense to identity theft charges in Tennessee.
Identity theft may be accidental or done without intent to harm another. In these cases, an experienced Tennessee identity theft defense attorney may be able to negotiate a beneficial plea deal with federal or state authorities. For example, agreeing to reimburse the injured party and submit to financial counseling may result in probation only. Working with a Tennessee identity theft criminal defense attorney may mean the difference between a felony conviction and freedom. It can also mean the difference between prison and probation. To schedule your free, confidential criminal defense consultation, call Barnes Law today at (865) 805-5703 or contact us online.
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