Identity Theft

Four Arrested for Identity Theft in San Carlos (CA Penal Code 530.5)

The San Carlos Best Buy parking lot was the scene at which 4 people were recently arrested for creating fraudulent gift cards and credit cards, and using them to buy approximately $125,000 worth of merchandise, including iPhones, clothing, and MacBook Pros. San Mateo Sheriff’s County deputies stopped the 4 persons (aged 20, 23, 26, and 29) after local law enforcement agents were alerted to their activities by a 911 call. They have been charged with several different crimes, such as identity theft, the use of stolen credit cards, commercial burglary, and possession of some access cards with the intent to defraud, and conspiracy.

Concentrating on the first charge, that of identity theft, California law is quite strict on these matters, especially since there are more reported instances of this crime in this state than any other. California Penal Code 530.5 addresses identity theft laws. Basically, any time that one person takes another person’s personal information for the purposes of using it to buy goods or services, they have engaged in identity theft.

Identity theft is a California ‘wobbler,’ meaning that prosecutors determine for themselves, dependent upon the specific facts of the case, whether they will treat the crime as a misdemeanor or as a felony. If convicted of a misdemeanor identity theft offense, you could spend up to 1 year in county jail and pay a $1,000 fine. However, if convicted of a felony count of identity theft, you could face up to 3 years in county jail and be subject to $10,000 in fines.

Revenge Porn Owner Sentenced to 18 Years for Identity Theft and Extortion (CA Penal Code 530.5 and 518)

Neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys were ever asked to deal with a case of its kind, a 28-year-old man who operated a site that allowed disgruntled exes to post embarrassing photographs of their former partners on the web, usually, this meant nude photographs, names, and other personal information.  When he was first arrested in December of 2013, it was difficult to determine what the charges would be, exactly.  Recently, however, he has been found guilty of 21 counts of identity theft and 6 counts of extortion.  So, how were prosecutors able to turn the operation of a ‘revenge porn’ site into identify theft and extortion?  Let’s take a look at the applicable laws.

California identify theft laws (CA Penal Code 530.5) normally apply to the usage of personal information for the purposes of committing fraud.  Typically, this means the theft of credit card information, social security numbers, and the like in order to purchase items and services without permission.  However, the law concerning identity theft is actually far broader.  To be sure, identity theft is most commonly for the purpose listed above, but it can also be used in order to cause emotional, not financial, harm.  Thus, when the photographs were posted online, along with identifying information, they caused emotional harm and, thus, loss of a certain kind.  Penalties for felony identity theft charges can be as high as 3 years in county jail and a $10,000 fine.

Extortion, otherwise known as blackmail, on the other hand (CA Penal Code 518) involves coercing someone to do as you wish them to do under threat of some unwanted consequence.  In the case of revenge porn, you might be wondering how it relates to blackmail, as the photographs are already up for the world to see.  It seems that another, second, site was created, one that offered victims of revenge porn the opportunity to pay a sum (usually $300-$350) in order to have their photographs taken down.  In California, most extortion cases are treated as felonies and penalties can range from 2 to 4 years in county jail and $10,000 in fines.  In the above case, because there were so many different counts, the revenge porn site runner was eventually sentenced to 18 years.


Identity Theft Operation Found in Pleasanton (CA Penal Code 530.5)

Local law enforcement authorities claim that 3 individuals (ranging in age from 25 to 29-years-old – names withheld in order to protect the privacy of the accused) have been caught running a small identity theft scam out of the Larkspur Landing Hotel in Pleasanton.  While investigating a stolen car out of Haywood, police were led to search certain related Larkspur rooms and found stolen credit cards along with computers, an embossing machine, small amounts of narcotics and some stolen property, including the personal mail of at least 10 different individuals.  The 3 have been officially charged with suspected identity theft, probation violations, and possession of illegal drugs.

According to the California Penal Code 530.5, any theft of another person’s personal information for the purposes of using that information in order to commit fraud or for some other illegal purpose is considered a serious crime.  In fact, some would argue that California has the highest rate of identity theft in the United States.  This particular violation of the law is technically a ‘wobbler,’ meaning that it is up to prosecutors as to whether they will treat it as a misdemeanor or as a felony; this depends on the unique set of facts involved in each case.  Penalties are, of course, different for a misdemeanor identity theft conviction and a felony conviction of the same type.  For example, if you are convicted of a misdemeanor, you may face 1 year in county jail and a $1,000 fine.  However, a felony identity theft conviction could end in up to 3 years in county jail and a fine of $10,000.  It is helpful to remember that the above listed penalties only pertain to the state of California.  There is also the possibility that you could be charged with a federal crime as well and this may mean incarceration in a federal prison for a maximum of 30 years.


Cab Driver Arrested for Identity Theft of S.F. Disabled Rider Cards (CA Penal Code 530.5 and 484e)

The city of San Francisco issues special debit cards for the use of taxicabs for individuals who have disabilities; they mean that those passengers receive a discount for every time the card is presented.  Local law enforcement agents claim that a 64-year-old (name withheld in order to protect the privacy of the accused) took advantage of this system, stealing cards from his disabled fares and then doubling his money when other passengers paid with cash.  In other words, he would allegedly take cash payments and then use the cards to fool the computer into thinking he’d given a ride to someone using a disabled access card.  He has been arrested for identity theft of 6 different counts (unauthorized use of personal information) and 2 separate counts of access card theft.  He has denied having been involved in any such scheme.

California has strict laws concerning identity theft of this kind.  Perhaps this is because, statistically, California boasts the greatest number of incidences of identity theft. Normally, ‘identity theft’ conjures up images of one of the latest Hollywood films about the subject. Somehow, a person is able to access your personal information and then uses it to commit crimes, run up credit card bills, and/or purchase large ticket items.  In comparison, his alleged crime is a little different.  He used personal information for monetary gain, to be sure, but not in the way that one usually imagines.  A California identity theft crime is a ‘wobbler,’ meaning that it is at the discretion of the prosecutor as to whether to pursue it as a misdemeanor or a felony.  Whereas a felony identity theft conviction may end in a $10,000 fine and 3 years in county jail, a misdemeanor conviction of the same type may mean a $1,000 fine and 1 year in county (CA Penal Code 530.5).  Additionally, he has been charged with a possible violation of CA Penal Code 484e (theft of a credit or ‘access’ card).  This, too, is a California wobbler and the penalties range from 3 years in state prison and a $10,000 fine to 1 year in county jail and a $1,000 fine.


Identity Theft Used For Tax Fraud Leaves Doctors Worried Nationwide (CA Penal Code 530.5)

Whether you’re a nurse, a dentist, or a brain surgeon, you ought to be aware that reports have come in from across the nation concerning the theft of doctors’ identities for the purposes of filing fraudulent tax returns.  Even the Unites States Secret Service have become involved in the case as illegal returns have come flooding in from the Internal Revenue Service after filing in April.  According to officials, there are doctors from 49 states who have alerted law enforcement officials about this particular crime.

Identity theft is nothing new to the U.S.; a 2012 report from the Bureau of Justice lists identity theft as a growing concern for police.  2 years ago, there were about 16.6 million people (that’s 7% of the population of the nation over the age of 16) who claimed to be victims of identity theft.

In the state of California, the prevalence of identity theft crimes is even higher than the national average, making it a focus for law enforcement officials.  Any time one person uses another’s identity or personal information in a manner that is illegal or fraudulent, the crime of identity theft has been committed (CA Penal Code 530.5).  California identity theft charges are what is known as a ‘wobbler,’ meaning that it is up to the prosecution to determine whether they will consider it a misdemeanor or a felony.

If you are convicted of a felony identity theft charge, you may face a $10,000 fine and 3 years in state prison; a misdemeanor conviction will get you a $1,000 fine and 1 year in county.  However, you may also be brought up on federal charges, which could result in a whopping 30 years in a federal detention facility.


San Francisco Sandwich Shop Target of Identity Theft (CA Penal Code 530.5)

Many people around the nation were made aware of Chef Tom Colicchio’s family of restaurants, including ‘wichcraft, a handcrafted sandwich shop that began in NYC and has a popular location in San Francisco’s South of Market area, due to his appearances as a judge on the television program ‘Top Chef.’  Patrons of the restaurant are accustomed to good service, but many will experience a surprise when they receive their next credit card bill, the store’s records have been hacked.  Anyone who purchased a sandwich or other fare at the S.F. location of ‘wichcraft between August 11th and October 2nd of this year is at risk for having had their private information stolen (including name, expiration date of credit card, security codes, and actual credit card numbers).  Local law enforcement officials have even posited that customers at other ‘wichcraft locations, like that in NYC, could be at risk.

All of this is on the back of the recent Target hack and many Californians remember when Lucky supermarket experienced comparable problems.  In California, cyber crimes are taken very seriously.  In fact, federal law in cases like these supersedes California law.  However, according to (CA Penal Code 530.5) also known as “Identity Theft” law, a felony hack of this size could result in 3 years in state prison and a maximum $10,000 fine.  If it becomes a federal case, then you may be looking at 30 years in federal prison and hefty fines.

What should customers do if they believe they may be affected by this particular hack?  Authorities have advised monitoring of your credit card account and contacting your credit card company.


Former Santa Clara County Supervisor Indicted on Felony Impersonation (CA Penal Code 529)

During the normal course of political campaigns, one can expect to see a certain amount of ‘mud-slinging.’ However, when former Santa Clara Supervisor (name withheld for privacy) decided to impersonate his 2010 opponent for San Jose City Council, he stepped over the line of politics and into the realm of a legal morass.  He has recently been indicted on felony charges of impersonation, given that prosecutors argue he sent out a mailer to an area with a large Vietnamese population that claimed his opponent was in league with the communist government in Vietnam. A movement which the opponent council member argues caused her to lose the race to his former aide by a slim margin (about 400 votes).

The original accusations and complaints from the opponent council member camp turned up little in the way of evidence, but further information came to light this year when the former supervisor was forced to give a DNA sample when booked on other charges.  The DNA from that sample was then compared to the sample from the stamps on the offending mailers and the connection was solidified.  In the state of California, charges of false impersonation are serious (CA Penal Code 529).  If the charges for this wobbler had been filed as a misdemeanor, he would be looking at about 1 year in county jail and a maximum $10,000 fine.  However, since he has been indicted on felony false impersonation charges, he will face up to 3 years in state prison and the same maximum fine.


Identity Thief Uses Missing Childrens’ Names (18 US Code §1028A)

In this, the digital age, it’s not uncommon for people to worry about their identities being stolen.  Someone manages to access your personal information and, suddenly, your bank account is empty, your credit card company is calling you, asking about charges you never made, and your entire world seems to be turned upside down.  Identity theft is a serious crime; it can ruin a person’s reputation, besides making their financial future difficult.  However, it is a common enough occurrence – heck, there’s even a motion picture comedy entitled, “Identity Thief” which pokes fun at the fact that this kind of crime is so widespread – we can all relate (see 18 US Code §1028A).

But, what happens when the person whose identity has been stolen is a missing child?  Then, the crime of identity theft takes on a new and more disturbing tone.  Yet, that’s exactly what 47-year-old Behzad Talai Mofrad has done – at least twice.  His first offense was stealing the identity of Kevin Collins, who was abducted in 1984.  This was a mistake as Collins’s kidnapping gained national attention back in the ‘80s and he was one of the first missing children to appear on the back of milk cartons across the country.  Mofrad then determined to steal the identity of then 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling, another victim of abduction in 1989.  Between the two incidences, Mofrad used these missing children’s identities to purchase a car, obtain false identification documents, and to get a fake passport.  He has also been charged with several counts of wire fraud in connection to these cases and will spend at least 20 years in prison for each accusation of wire fraud and 2 years for each identity theft.

DNA on Stamp Leads to Arrest of Ex-County Supervisor in Santa Clara

Typically, we hear about DNA-related evidence in cases of rape or other such crimes.  Rarely is DNA evidence used in cases of fraud.  But, this is exactly what happened when George Shirakawa, Jr. (ex-Santa Clara County Supervisor) sent illegal campaign mailers to unsuspecting citizens of Santa Clara County in 2010. At that time, the City Council race was tight and the mailers that were sent connected former candidate Magdalena Carrasco with the Vietnamese government – and suggested that she was a communist.

Shirakawa was charged with impersonating a City Council candidate (CA Penal Code §528-§539), which could land him with a maximum $10,000 fine, one year in state prison, or both.  It was dirty politics at its worst.  A tight race was tipped in favor of Xavier Campos, a former aide of Shirakawa through the use of these mailers, which depicted Carrasco as not only a proponent of communism, but as proud of this fact.  The end result? Carrasco went from being in second place to Campos (by a mere 20 votes) to losing a runoff by 400 votes.  When the incident occurred, Carrasco complained, but her concerns were dismissed.

The matter would have ended there if Shirakawa hadn’t been arrested earlier this year on other charges (stolen campaign donations in excess of $100,000 and the theft of public monies – all to fuel his gambling addiction).  Police took DNA from Shirakawa during his arrest on these charges and were then able to match it to at least one postage stamp used to mail the 2010 flyers.  Needless to say, Carrasco has been vindicated, at least as far as her reputation goes.  Yet, it’s an empty victory, as the election results cannot be overturned nor the election re-lived.

Refinement of Plea Bargain Agreement in California Supreme Court

Usually, plea bargaining is the purview of prosecutors in criminal cases, but recently the California Supreme Court has unanimously determined that judges may inform defendants of their possible sentence if they plead guilty to the charges against them.  This dangerous precedent has caused quite a stir in the state and has  completely re-defined the roles of judges and attorneys.  A balance is meant to exist between the court’s representative, the judge, and the attorneys dealing with the case.  Normally, judges are meant to be impartial, upholding the law that already exists – not creating new laws or acting as lawyers do.

The case that set fire to this new debate over whether judicial plea-bargaining (which would be crossing the line) is the same as informing criminal defendants of their “indicated sentence” involved a man named Wesley Clancey, who was arrested n 2010 for forging checks more than $123,000  in Santa Clara County.  Because Clancey had already been convicted in the past of a felony, the prosecutor in the case argued for an 8-9 year prison term.  However, Judge Rene Navarro told Clancey something entirely different – that he planned to give him 5 years instead of 8-9 because the conviction was more than 10 years old.  In the end, Clancey got the 5 years, partly because he pleaded no contest to the charges as per Judge Navarro’s comments (see People vs. Clancey, S200158).

While some see this incredible change as positive, allowing the court to spend less time on particular cases in which the defendant admits guilt, other see this as an overwhelming blow to the legitimacy of prosecutorial power and authority.  The truth of the matter is, however, that prosecutors are often overzealous in their sentencing requests.  And judges?  Well, let’s just say that they are likely to have a great deal more experience and knowledge than the average prosecutor.  Now, when it seems that the prosecution is being unreasonable, a California judge can adjust and control for this factor, making the judicial process run more smoothly and saving the tax payers of the state the money for unnecessary trials.