In October of this year, 25 people in Minnesota were indicted on identity theft and bank fraud charges. According to My Fox 9, the crime ring is responsible for the largest conspiracy in the state, allegedly attempting to steal more than $2 million from 49 banks. Perhaps even more surprising is the method through which the defendants stole money: using photos that people posted on social media.
People who are charged with identity theft could face harsh sentences, especially as federal prosecutors are increasingly seeking maximum penalties for the crime. The defendants in this case, if convicted, could incur jail time, large fines and more.
A sophisticated crime
In order to steal money, the crime ring in Minnesota used Instagram, which is a photo-sharing social media network through which uses can post pictures for public consumption. The defendants in this case targeted users who posted photographs of their first paychecks. In order to find such images, members of the crime ring would search for hash tags associated with pictures, such as #firstpaycheckever or #myfirstpaycheck. The tags led them to thousands of victims.
Several of the defendants would then forge checks and go to different banks to cash them. Other people who were charged with a crime in conjunction with the activity include bank tellers and other insiders.
Consequences of identity theft
Every state has its own identity theft laws that outline consequences to identity theft. In Minnesota, the law notes after an arrest, the crime could be pursued as either a misdemeanor of a felony. The factors that determine the severity of the charge include how many victims are involved as well as the amount of losses. The defendants in the Minnesota crime will face felony charges.
The penalties for a felony identity theft charge in Minnesota include the following:
- Spending time in prison
- Hefty fines
- Restitution, or repaying stolen amounts
For federally charged crimes, a court can add even more prison time when defendants knowingly use someone else’s identity in connection with a federal crime. If the act is part of a terrorist activity, sentencing can be increased by up to five additional years.
According to a spokesperson for the United States Attorney’s Office, the Minnesota crime ring was the most sophisticated identity theft organization in Minnesota. However, even smaller crimes, such as setting up a website or sending an email to try to obtain someone’s identity, can merit harsh penalties. It is important that people facing these white collar crimes charges understand how the law applies to the situation. Anyone with questions should consult with an attorney.