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The average victim of ID theft will discover the crime one to six months after the first occurrence. In this span of time, an identity criminal can demolish credit, pile up a mountain of bills, and ruin a good name. In the last 10 years, federal, state, and local governments have recognized the serious nature of this crime and have enacted laws to prevent and punish those who would steal personal and financial information. The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998 was the first law that dealt directly with identity theft and made it a federal crime to "knowingly transfer, possess, or use without lawful authority" another person's identification. Punishment for identity theft is a fine and sentence of up to 15 years in federal prison. Identity theft penalties vary for state and local law enforcement agencies.
Unfortunately, the law cannot stop identity theft nor does it require companies to explain the risks of identity theft to their customers. You can help protect yourself from identity theft by taking precautions when using your personal information, protecting your computer from thieves, and keeping track of your accounts, bills, and credit report.