Identity fraud is a serious criminal offence, with over 226,000 cases reported in 2021 alone according to CyberCrew. In this article, we cover what the offence of identity fraud involves, provide some examples, and answer some of the most frequently asked questions we receive about this crime. By reading through the information here, you will gain a better understanding of the charge, know what to expect, and be prepared to take the necessary steps to resolve the situation.
What is the offence of identity fraud?
Identity fraud is a grave offence that involves the unauthorised use of someone else’s personal information for fraudulent purposes. Like most other instances of fraud, it is governed by the Fraud Act 2006. In England, to secure a conviction for identity fraud, the prosecution must prove several key elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- Personal information – the prosecution must establish that the accused knowingly used, possessed, or controlled another person’s identity or personal information. This information can include, but is not limited to, a person’s name, date of birth, address, social security number, bank details, or any other data that can be used to identify an individual.
- Intent to commit fraud – it is not enough to merely possess or use someone else’s personal information: the prosecution must demonstrate that the accused had the intent to commit fraud. This means that they intended to use the stolen information for financial gain, to deceive others, or to engage in criminal activities.
- Act of deception – the prosecution must show that the accused used the stolen identity or personal information to deceive someone or to gain an advantage. This could involve opening fraudulent bank accounts, applying for credit in the victim’s name, or making unauthorised purchases.
- No consent – the prosecution must establish that the accused did not have the consent or authorisation of the individual whose identity or personal information was misused. Consent is a fundamental aspect of this offence, and without it, the accused may face more severe penalties.
- Knowledge – the accused must have been aware of their actions and the consequences of using someone else’s identity or personal information.
Securing a conviction for identity fraud in England is contingent on the prosecution’s ability to prove these elements beyond a reasonable doubt.
What are some examples of identity fraud?
Examples of this offence include:
- Applying for credit cards or loans using another person’s name, date of birth, and other personal information without their consent. This is one of the most prevalent types of identity fraud.
- Opening bank accounts in someone else’s name and depositing fraudulent funds or redirecting legitimate funds.
- Gaining access to someone’s existing accounts by stealing login credentials or hacking into accounts.
- Purchasing mobile phone service using stolen personal information.
- Filing a fraudulent tax return to obtain a refund check in someone else’s name.
- Providing false personal information to obtain government benefits like health care or unemployment benefits.
- Using someone else’s insurance information to obtain medical services or file false claims.
- Giving false personal information when acquiring utility services like electricity, gas, or water.
- Obtaining a driver’s licence or other identification documents like passports using fabricated information.
- Committing crimes or violations and giving police false identifying details when caught.
What happens if you are suspected of committing identity fraud in the UK?
Anyone suspected of committing identity fraud in the UK may face a number of key investigative and judicial steps as the matter gets resolved. This is what typically happens if you are under suspicion of identity fraud in the UK:
- Investigation – suspicions of identity fraud often trigger an investigation by the police or specialised crime units. These investigations are often thorough and may involve gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses, and reviewing personal and financial records in your personal and professional lives.
- Arrest and questioning – if the police believe they have sufficient evidence to support a conviction, or if they need to obtain more information to get to that point, they may arrest you. You will be taken into police custody and questioned. Note, you have the right to remain silent and the right to legal representation.
- Search warrants – the police may obtain search warrants to search your premises, seize documents, and gather further evidence related to the case as required by their investigation.
- Release or detention – after arrest, you may either be released under investigation or released on bail, with or without conditions, or kept in custody. The decision whether to release or detain you depends on factors like the seriousness of the alleged offence, your flight risk, and the likelihood of interfering with the investigation.
- Charging decision – once the investigation is complete, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will decide whether there is enough evidence to secure a conviction. If charged, you will be given a court date for your initial appearance.
- Court proceedings – at your court appearance, you will have the opportunity to enter a plea (guilty or not guilty). If you plead not guilty, the case will go to trial, where the prosecution will present its evidence, and your defence team will have the chance to counter any allegations made against you.
- Sentencing – if found guilty, the court will impose a sentence, which may include fines, imprisonment, or other penalties.
If you are suspected of identity fraud, get expert legal representation as soon as practicable to ensure your rights are protected and that you have the best chance of having the case dropped.
What is the sentence for identity fraud in the UK?
The sentence for identity fraud under the Fraud Act 2006 varies depending on the specifics of the case and the discretion of the court. Minor, first-time identity fraud may result in up to one year in prison, a fine, or both.
However, more serious or systematic identity frauds can lead to sentences of up to 10 years in prison, even for first-time offenders.
Aggravating factors like targeting vulnerable victims or involvement of organised crime can further increase sentences. Judges consider the loss and damage caused to victims when determining sentences, with larger frauds typically garnering longer jail times. Repeat offenders also face harsher sentences compared to first-time offenders. In some minor first-time cases, conditional discharges, community service, curfews or probation may be given instead of jail time.
Are there any defences to identity fraud?
Potential defences include:
- Lack of intent – one of the key elements the prosecution must prove is that the accused had the intent to commit fraud. If it can be shown that the use of another person’s identity or personal information was accidental or without fraudulent intent, it could be a defence.
- Mistaken identity – in some cases, individuals may be mistakenly accused of identity fraud due to similarities in names or other identifying information. Proving that you are not the person who committed the fraudulent acts can be a valid defence.
- Consent – if you had consent from the alleged victim to use their personal information for a particular purpose, this can serve as a defence. It’s key that the consent is valid and can be substantiated.
- Mental Capacity – in cases where the accused had diminished mental capacity at the time of the offence, such as due to a mental health condition or cognitive impairment, this may be a defence.
- Identity theft victim – if the accused was also a victim of identity theft and can prove that they were not aware of the fraudulent activities committed in their name, this may serve as a defence.
The success of these defences depends on the specific details of the case, the quality of evidence, and the effectiveness of legal representation. If you or someone you care about are facing charges of identity fraud, consult with an experienced criminal defence solicitor who can assess your case, provide guidance on potential defences, and advocate on your behalf during legal proceedings.
Will I go to prison if it is my first time committing identity fraud?
The potential outcome of a first-time identity fraud conviction in the UK can vary, with factors such as the severity of the offence, mitigating factors, criminal history, legal representation, and sentencing guidelines all playing a role.
While imprisonment is a possible consequence, it is certainly not guaranteed, particularly for less severe offences and first-time offenders. Courts may consider alternative sentencing options, including fines, community service, probation, or suspended sentences.
Consulting with an experienced criminal defence lawyer who specialises in identity fraud is imperative.
Where to get further help
If you or someone you care about is facing a charge, or has already been charged, with identity fraud, ensure you get expert identity fraud representation at the first opportunity. We may even be able to get your case dropped before you get charged, or before your case reaches trial. Contact the team at Stuart Miller Solicitors today for a free consultation to find out more.
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