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Identity theft remains a thorny problem

Identity thieves in New York and around the country have been the targets of FBI investigations for decades, but the problem has become far more serious in recent years as more and more Americans handle their financial affairs online. The Federal Trade Commission says that the number of complaints it received about identity theft almost doubled between 2010 and 2015, but experts believe that the true number could be much higher than government figures indicate because many victims never learn that their identities were stolen.

Committing identity theft involves using another individual's confidential personal information to further crimes such as theft and fraud. Identity thieves obtain sensitive information by going through trash, sending phishing emails or using social engineering techniques. The money that can be made in this way has also attracted the attention of major criminal organizations. Attacks mounted against some of the world's most secure websites have resulted in data breaches that compromised the personal information of millions of Americans.

Congress made identity theft a federal crime in 1998 with the passage of the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act. The penalties for aggravated identity theft, which is using confidential information to commit felony crimes, were strengthened in 2004 when President Bush signed the Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act into law. The penalties for using the personal information of others to further terrorist goals are especially severe.

Identity theft cases often involve large amounts of financial evidence that can confound juries. Experienced criminal defense attorneys may remind federal prosecutors of this during plea negotiations and urge them to consider reducing charges in return for a swift and successful outcome. Prosecutors know that their career arcs are highly influenced by their conviction rates, and they sometimes make generous plea offers even when their cases appear formidable.

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