Identity Theft [CA Penal Code Sect. 530.5]
The unauthorized use, possession, sale, or transfer of a person’s (or legal entity’s) “personal identifying information” is a violation of Penal Code section 530.5 – even if no one actually suffers any harm or loss as a result. “Personal identifying information” includes, but is not limited to, names, addresses, social security numbers, driver’s license or passport numbers, dates of birth, tax identification numbers, account numbers and/ or passwords. If such information is willfully obtained, used, or provided to another for a fraudulent or unlawful purpose (usually to gain a financial benefit, escape criminal liability, or gain access to protected information) the defendant may face state and/or federal charges. Even when there is only one victim, a defendant could be charged with multiple counts of identity theft if the personal information of the victim was used or obtained unlawfully on more than one occasion.
What must be proven?
Under California law, the prosecutor must prove:
- The defendant willfully obtained or acquired another’s personal information; AND
- Without consent, did one or more of the following:
- Willfully used the information for an unlawful purpose [530.5(a)] OR
- Kept the information with the intent to defraud another [ 530.5(c)(1),(2),or (3)] OR
- Sold or transferred the information with the intent to defraud [530.5(d)(1)] OR
- Sold or transferred the information with knowledge that it would be used without authorization to commit a fraud [530.5(d)(2].
Identity theft may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony under California law. As a misdemeanor, a person may face up to a year in jail, fines, or both. As a felony, a person may face up to three years in prison.
Related Offenses [PC 470, 484(e)-(j), 487, 502, 529, 530.5(e)]
Forgery  – Signing, counterfeiting, or copying someone else’s name, signature, handwriting, or seal without the other’s authorization is a crime under PC 470. This section also criminalizes the alteration, corruption, or falsifying of legal or other specified documents.
Credit Card Fraud [484(e)-(j)] – Stealing, counterfeiting, or publishing credit cards or credit card information, signing another’s name in a credit card transaction without consent, or the fraudulent use of a stolen, fake or expired credit card are all punishable offenses under sections 484(e)-(j).
Unauthorized Computer Access [502(c)] – If in an effort to deceive or defraud, a person knowingly accesses and uses , copies, destroys, or alters computer hardware, networks, systems, or data without permission, (s)he faces criminal liability.
False Impersonation  – The use of another’s name or identification to gain a benefit, avoid civil or criminal liability, or in detriment to another’s interest is a violation of PC 529.
Mail Theft [530.5 (e)] – Stealing, removing, destroying or possessing stolen mail, packages or anything contained within them is both a public offence under state law and federal law. Under California state law, mail theft is a misdemeanor, carrying a penalty of up to 1 year in county jail and/or a fine up to $1000.