Florida has remained a hotspot in the country for fraud and identity theft as of 2014, according to a recent report. Among all metro areas, southern Florida was found to be at the top of the list for identity theft complaints for five years in a row, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
Florida has long been known for fraud and identity theft going back many years. In 2014, it was the home of seven of the top 20 metro regions for consumer fraud complaints. The state is third in the US in population at 21 million but it has the highest rate of fraud.
Identity thieves and other fraud-related criminals target Florida for several reasons. It does not have a state income tax, so there is less financial scrutiny from officials. It also has a high transient population that makes to easy for hit and run ID thieves to hide. Also, it has a high senior citizen population that provides thieves with ample targets with money. Florida also has a lot of development going on at any one time, and there is always a lot of money in the state.
Over 200,000 fraud complaints were made in the state in 2014, including tens of thousands of identity theft complaints. This was the highest per person rate in the entire country, with more than 1007 complaints per 100,000 residents. More than 37,000 people in the state complained about identity theft, which gave Florida the highest rate in the country at 186 complaints per 100,000 population.
For all US metro areas, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach had 18,428 complaints about identity theft. This was the highest rate in the nation at 316 complaints per 100,000. Most often, the thefts were discovered when taxpayers could not file a tax return because the thief had already sent in a return with their name and Social Security number.
In 2013, the IRS stated that south Florida was one of the major headquarters for tax related ID theft and vowed they would crack down on it. In a year, the IRS increased the number of identity theft investigations by 300%, and doubled the number of agency workers who focused on ID theft in the state related to tax fraud. It also has beefed up computer software to find fake returns.
ID Theft Overview in Florida
Identity theft usually involves either true name or account takeover fraud.
Florida has a number of different laws that cover identity theft. If someone is suspected of committing identity theft, they can be charged with a number of crimes. These include:
- Criminal use of personal identification information – the fraudulent use, or possession intending to fraudulently use, the identifying information of another person with their consent. This includes details such as a telephone number, name, date of birth, driver’s license number, mother’s maiden name or any other information relating to someone’s identity. This is classed as a third degree felony. It is a second degree felony if property is obtained through the information worth more than $5,000. If the personal information was related to between 10 and 19 people, it is also a second degree felony. If more than 20 people were involved, or if the value is $50,000 or more, it is a first degree felony.
- Obtaining property by false impersonation – when people impersonate someone, or present themselves as being someone else, with the intent of obtaining property, it is classed as larceny. This can be either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the type and value of the property.
- Criminal use of personal identification information to harass – when people use the identifying information of someone else without being permitted to do so, and uses this for harassment. This is classed as a first degree misdemeanor.
- Use of a minor’s personal identification information – when people use the personal information of someone under the age of 18 without their, or their guardian’s permission. This is classed as second degree felony.
Use of a deceased’s personal identification information – if people use, or intend to use, the personal information of someone who is deceased in order to obtain goods. If the goods are worth more than $5,000, or if the information pertains to between 10 and 19 people, it is classed as a second degree felony. If the value of the goods is above $50,000, or if between 20 and 29 people were involved, it is classed as a first degree felony. If the value is above $100,000, or if more than 30 people were involved, it is a first degree felony, which carries a minimum prison sentence of 10 years.
- Counterfeit or fictitious personal identification information – when people use fictitious or falsified personal information in order to commit fraud. This is classed as a third degree felony, although it can, depending on circumstances, become a second or first degree felony, or even a life felony.
Identity theft generally in the United States is prohibited per the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998. This makes it a federal crime to transfer or use without lawful permission a means of ID of another person with the intent to commit any illegal activity that is a violation of state or federal law. Under this Act, someone’s name or Social Security number is a means of identification. Also qualifying is a credit card number, cell phone number or any other information that can be used to identify a person.
All violations of this act will be investigated by federal officers, such as the US Secret Service, FBI, Postal Inspection Service and the SSA Office of the Inspector General. Federal ID theft cases shall be prosecuted by the Department of Justice.
Usually, a federal conviction for identity theft has a maximum penalty of 15 years in federal prison, as well as a fine and forfeiting any personal property that was used to commit the identity theft. Note that schemes to engage in identity theft or fraud also can involve violations of other federal statutes, such as credit card fraud, mail fraud, computer fraud, or Social Security fraud. All of these are felonies and carry penalties themselves that can be as high as 30 years in some cases.
Laws and Penalties
The laws and penalties depend in the crime that someone is charged with. The crime is generally viewed as a second degree felony when the amount that is stolen is more than $5000. Most often, the penalties include:
- A prison sentence of between one and 40 years. First degree misdemeanors carry a maximum of one year prison sentence.
A fine of up to $15,000. Misdemeanors carry a maximum fine of $1,000.
- Probation, either on top of or separately from the prison term and/or fines. Probation means having to abide by various conditions, including paying restitution and fines, regular meetings, disassociation with other criminals and not being allowed to own or use firearms.
- Restitution, where the money that the victim of identity theft, whether an individual or organization, is paid back. This is a type of compensation and goes above and beyond the court costs and fines.
Identity Theft Examples
There are many types of identity theft in Florida. With a case of true name fraud, a person uses a consumer’s personal data to open new accounts in that person’s name. With account takeover fraud, a person gets access to your current accounts and makes illegal charges.
Another type of ID theft happens when the criminal gives the personal information of the victim to the police when the criminal is placed under arrest. The person then could have a criminal record or outstanding arrest warrant attached to their name and not know it.
Some of the common ways that people are charged with identity theft in Florida today are for these crimes:
- Someone at the DMV may give the license numbers and Social Security numbers to a third party.
- Stores ask the customer to write down their driver’s license on a check, and the clerk may write it down and steal the information.
- Some criminals will go through dumpsters behind office and medical buildings and steal people’s personal information.
- Criminals may purchase data from information brokers who do not always ask questions about the motives of the buyer
Statute of Limitations
In Florida, the statute of limitations for an identity theft case stands at three years. If it is charged at federal level, however, this can be extended. Additionally, this can be tolled if the offender is out of state.
Identity Theft Cases
- Massive ID theft in Florida caused by man and woman – Two people were at the center of a major ID theft ring in the state. Renald Wilder and Holly Eckert managed to steal several hundred driver’s license numbers and cards from people throughout the state. They also stole thousands of credit cards. Eckert was not allowed to be released on bond, and the other person’s bond was set at $10,000. Purchases with the stolen funds were used to stereo equipment, shoes and TVs.
- More than 650 identities stolen by 1 Florida woman – Several tax returns in Florida were filed by a woman using the names of several people. Laveisha D. Charles-Coldros stole more than 650 identities to file false tax returns and get back fraudulent tax refunds. However, she pled guilty to only one count that totalled $1000. A duffel bag the woman was holding was full of people’s personal ID information, such as Social Security numbers, dates of birth, names and dozens of credit cards.
- Senior citizens victims of ID theft by Miami couple – A couple in Miami targeted a senior couple to try to steal their identity and use it to make expensive purchases. Alberto Companioni and Patricia Perez Gonzalez stole more than 40 identities during a crime spree of two years. They made more than $2 million in fraudulent purchases. Many of those purchases were used to go on expensive shopping sprees and to travel the US.
- Jacksonville man sentenced to prison for identity theft – A man received 20 months in a federal prison for his role in an identity theft scheme and trying to pass counterfeit checks.
- Florida is No. 1 in the sun on fraud, ID theft – It has been determined that Florida is the worst state in the country for identity theft. So much so that the IRS has provided people with free identity theft protection kits.
- Victims Of Social Security Number Theft Find It’s Hard To Bounce Back – The Anthem health insurance database was hacked and it seems that the information gained from this is being used to put in fraudulent welfare claims.
- Thieves are preying on your child’s identity – Some 52,000 children each year become victims of identity theft.
- Jacksonville woman pleads guilty to conspiracy to defraud U.S., ID theft – A woman has pled guilty to aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to defraud the U.S.
- Florida ID Theft Laws. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.idtheftauthority.com/florida-identity-theft-laws/
- Florida Leads the Nation in Fraud and ID Theft. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/florida/fl-florida-leading-fraud-id-theft-20150303-story.html