27 Nov 23

Philadelphia Federal Identity Theft and Credit Card Fraud Charges

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Last Updated on: 4th January 2024, 08:45 pm

Identity Theft and Credit Card Fraud in Philadelphia: A Growing Concern

Identity theft and credit card fraud are on the rise in Philadelphia and across the country. As the city continues to modernize and integrate technology into daily life, criminals are finding new ways to steal personal information and make unauthorized purchases. Just last week, federal prosecutors announced charges against 13 people accused of stealing over $2 million through identity theft and credit card fraud schemes targeting retail stores, online merchants, and regular citizens going about their business in the Philadelphia area (press release).

This case highlights how prevalent these types of cybercrimes have become. According to the Federal Trade Commission’s most recent data, Pennsylvania ranks 7th in the country for fraud and identity theft reports per capita (FTC data). As U.S. Attorney Jacqueline Romero noted, “The crimes of these defendants undermine confidence in technology and financial systems relied upon by individuals, companies, governments, and non-profits nationwide.”

So what constitutes identity theft and credit card fraud under federal law, and what are the penalties if convicted? Let’s break it down.

Identity Theft Charges

Federal identity theft charges typically fall under 18 U.S.C. § 1028, known as the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act. This law makes it illegal to knowingly transfer, possess, or use another person’s means of identification like their name, Social Security number, credit card number, or other identifying information, without lawful authority, in order to commit a crime.

Potential penalties under this statute are:

  • Up to 5 years in prison if no other federal crimes are involved
  • Up to 20 years in prison if done in relation to a violation of federal terrorism, drug trafficking, crimes of violence, or computer fraud laws
  • Fines and restitution to victims

So in cases involving large identity theft rings like the recent Philadelphia example, defendants can face decades behind bars if convicted.

Credit Card Fraud Charges

There are also a few other federal laws used to prosecute credit card fraud schemes:

18 U.S.C. § 1029 – Fraud in Connection with Access Devices: This statute specifically covers schemes to defraud that involve “access devices” like credit cards, debit cards, bank account numbers, and other payment cards. Penalties can include fines plus up to 10 years in prison.

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18 U.S.C. § 1343 – Wire Fraud: If credit card fraud involves electronic communications like the internet, cell phones, etc., wire fraud charges may apply. This can add up to 20 years in prison.

18 U.S.C. § 1344 – Bank Fraud: If the fraud affects FDIC insured financial institutions, bank fraud can be charged. This also carries up to 30 years behind bars.

As you can see, federal credit card fraud laws have some serious teeth and long prison sentences for those convicted.

Recent Philadelphia Identity Theft Bust

In the Philadelphia case announced last week, 13 alleged members of a local identity theft ring were charged with conspiring to produce and use counterfeit credit cards encoded with stolen account information. According to the indictment, this crew operated for years and victimized over 1,000 people to fund lavish lifestyles of expensive cars, jewelry, designer clothes, trips, and casino gambling trips.

The charges for members of this alleged enterprise include:

  • Conspiracy to Commit Access Device Fraud
  • Aggravated Identity Theft
  • Access Device Fraud
  • Bank Fraud
  • Conspiracy to Commit Bank Fraud
  • Wire Fraud

Based on the number and severity of these charges, many defendants are facing as much as 30 years in federal prison if found guilty.

U.S. Attorney Romero declared, “These criminals’ greed knew no bounds – stealing people’s identities to fund casino trips, cars, vacations, and more.” Her office seems intent on seeking lengthy sentences for these defendants as a warning to other would-be fraudsters.

Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft

The best defense against identity theft is vigilance in protecting your personal and financial information. Here are some tips:

  • Check credit card and bank statements closely for odd charges
  • Put a credit freeze on your files at Equifax, Experian and TransUnion when not opening new credit
  • Use complex passwords and change them frequently
  • Never click suspicious links in emails, texts, calls
  • Use firewall and anti-virus software and keep apps/devices updated
  • Shred financial documents before disposal
  • Consider identity theft monitoring services that search for use of your information

If you do become an identity theft victim, be sure to report it immediately to the FTC and file a police report. This will allow you to work with creditors/banks to reverse fraudulent charges and restore your good standing. Consider credit repair assistance as well.

While cases like the recent Philadelphia indictment are unsettling, following cyber security best practices can help citizens protect sensitive information from criminals seeking to fund extravagant lifestyles through identity theft and credit card fraud. The federal laws discussed above also pack a strong deterrent with stiff sentences upon conviction.

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I hope this overview has been helpful and makes Philadelphia residents more aware of the identity theft threat landscape as well as key steps to minimize risk. Don’t hesitate to reach out with any other questions!