The crime of identity theft occurs when one person or entity misuses another person’s identifying information (personal or financial) without their consent.
The elements required to prove identity theft are: 1) a person knowingly 2) with an intent to defraud 3) assumes the identity of another person.
A person knowingly assumes the identity of another person when that person is aware that he or she is assuming the identity of that other person. Intent means conscious objective or purpose. Thus, a person acts with intent to defraud when his or her conscious objective or purpose is to do so. Assuming the identity of another person can be done through obtaining their personal or financial data. Such data (including social security numbers, credit history, and PIN numbers) is often acquired through 1) the offender's unlawful access to information from government and financial entities, or through 2) lost or stolen mail, wallets and purses, identification, and credit or debit cards.
Criminal penalties for identity theft vary from misdemeanors with fines to felonies with imprisonment depending on the state, and depending on the damages incurred by the plaintiff. However, in addition to identity theft, the "Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act," which increases existing penalties for the crime of identity theft, establishes aggravated identity theft as a criminal offense, and establishes mandatory penalties for aggravated identity theft. Aggravated identity theft is defined in the law as the use of a stolen identity to commit certain criminal acts. If convicted for using or providing fake IDs to help terrorists, the mandatory prison term is five years. Providing fake IDs for non-terrorism-related crimes would carry a two-year prison term.