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.