Identity Theft Charges in North Carolina
Identity theft occurs when a person knowingly obtains, possesses, or uses identifying information of another person, living or dead, with the intent to fraudulently represent that the person is the other person for the purposes of making financial or credit transactions in the other person’s name, to obtain anything of value, benefit, or advantage, or for the purpose of avoiding legal consequences. N.C. Gen. Stat § 14-113.20. Identity theft is a felony offense in North Carolina.
Identifying information, for purposes of the Identify Theft statute, includes but is not limited to the following:
- Social security numbers
- Employer taxpayer identification numbers
- Driver’s license numbers
- Passport numbers
- Bank account numbers
- Credit card numbers
- Debit card numbers
- Personal Identification Codes (PIN Number)
- Electronic identification numbers
- Email addresses
- Internet account numbers
- Internet identification names
- Digital signatures
- Any number of information that can be used to access a person’s financial resources
- Biometric data
- Parent’s legal surname prior to marriage
What Happens if I am Convicted of Identity Theft in North Carolina?
Identity Theft is a felony offense in North Carolina. Identity theft generally is punishable as a Class G felony. However, identity theft may be punishable as a Class F felony if:
- the victim suffers arrest, detention, or conviction as a proximate result of the offense; or
- the person is in possession of the identifying information pertaining to three or more separate persons.
If you are convicted of Identity Theft, the Court may order you to pay restitution to the victim for their financial loss. Financial loss includes actual losses, lost wages, attorneys’ fees, and other costs incurred by the victim in correcting their credit history or credit rating, or in connection with any legal proceeding brought against the victim resulting from the misappropriation of the victim’s identifying information.
|Offense||Punishment Class||Minimum Sentences|
|Identity Theft||Class F||I/A|
|Identity Theft||Class G||I/A|
|Trafficking Stolen Identities||Class F||I/A|
|Trafficking Stolen Identities||Class G||I/A|
What is Trafficking Stolen Identities under North Carolina Law?
Trafficking in Stolen Identities is a felony offense in North Carolina where the defendant is accused of selling, transferring, or buying the identifying information of another person with the intent to commit identity theft or to help another person to commit identity theft. Depending on the circumstances, Trafficking Stolen Identities is punishable as a class G or class F felony in North Carolina.
What is the Proper Venue for a North Carolina Identity Theft Charge?
If you are charged with Identity Theft, a criminal proceeding may be carried out against you in the county where the victim resides, where you reside, or where any part of the identity theft took place. The criminal proceeding may also be carried out in any other county instrumental to the completion of the offense, regardless of whether the defendant was ever actually present in that county.
What are the Possible Civil Consequences for Identity Theft in North Carolina?
In addition to criminal punishment, a person who commits Identity Theft may face civil liability. Under N.C.G.S. § 1-539.2C a person who has been a victim of identity theft may sue the perpetrator for damages. For each unlawful act, damages may be awarded for the greater of:
- Up to five thousand dollars ($5,000), but no less than five hundred dollars ($500.00); or
- Three times the amount of actual damages suffered by the victim
Additionally, the plaintiff may also institute a civil action to enjoin and restrain future acts that would constitute identity theft. The Court may award reasonable attorneys’ fees to the prevailing party. A civil suit under N.C.G.S. § 1-539.2C does not depend on whether a criminal prosecution has been or will be instituted. This is an additional remedy to prosecution that is provided to the alleged victims under the law.
If a civil action were to be initiated against you, the case will occur in the county in which the plaintiff resides or any county in which any part of the alleged identity theft took place, regardless of whether the defendant was ever actually present in that county.
Civil actions for identity theft must be brought within three years from the date on which the identity of the wrongdoer was discovered or reasonably should have been discovered.
What are Potential Defenses to an Identity Theft Allegations?
An experienced attorney may be able to raise several defenses for Identity Theft allegations in North Carolina criminal courts. Remember, it is the State’s responsibility to prove the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Some possible defenses to identity theft include:
- Identifying information was not used or provided by the accused.
- Insufficient evidence that an actual person matched the “identifying information” used as a basis for the prosecution.
- Information was not provided to identify any real person, living or dead.
- Identifying information was not used to obtain anything of value or benefit.
- Failure of the State to properly allege the offense.
About the Author: Emily Almanza, a class of 2023 law student at Campbell University School of Law contributed to this blog post.