Identity Theft

In Massachusetts, it is identity theft (also called identity fraud) to obtain or use other people’s personal identifying information without their permission to purchase goods or services or obtain credit.
Identity theft involves stealing a person’s identifying information and using the information to access the victim’s financial accounts or establish new credit accounts. In the process of impersonating the victim, the thief can ruin the victim’s credit and run up huge bills. Identity thieves obtain personal information online, from public records, and by stealing mail, trash, and wallets.

For general information on the crime of identity theft, see The Crime of Identity Theft.

PROTECTING YOURSELF

Identity thieves target millions of Americans every year. The Federal Trade Commission’s website (www.ftc.gov) has information on how to protect yourself from identity theft (see Protecting Your Identity) and what to do if you are victimized (see Repairing Identity Theft).
Under Massachusetts’s laws, a defendant commits the crime of identity fraud by:

posing as another person and using the person’s personal identifying information to obtain goods, services, credit, or anything else of value, or
obtaining a person’s personal identifying information for the purpose of posing as another person or helping someone else pose as another person.
Personal identifying information includes a person’s name, address, social security number, bank account number, driver’s license number, or credit card number.

In order to be convicted of identity theft, the defendant must act with the intent to defraud (to obtain money or anything else of value by deception) and without the victim’s permission. The crime is committed as soon as the personal identifying information is taken or obtained with an intention to use it without permission. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 266, § 37E.)

For example, a child who uses a parent’s credit card number to buy something with permission has not committed identity fraud. However, a sales clerk who copies a customer’s credit card number intending to use it later has committed identity fraud, even if the clerk never used the number.

Punishment

In Massachusetts, identity theft is punishable by up to two years and six months in county jail, a fine of up to $5,000, or both. The court may also order the defendant to pay restitution to the victim for any costs incurred by the victim as a result of the crime, including the cost of repairing the victim’s credit. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 266, § 37E.)