While the term “identity theft” isn’t new, the crime has exploded in recent years as more people fall victim to sophisticated hacking and social engineering schemes. Those who steal personal identifying information often use the data to commit fraud, another crime that has gained notoriety in the last couple of years.
Anyone who commits identity theft and identity fraud can face penalties on conviction. But New York also has laws that prohibit anyone from possessing the personal identifying information of others without consent. The laws apply regardless of how the person came across the stolen data.
State law on possessing personal identifying information
Per New York law, a person is guilty of unlawful possession of personal identifying information in the third degree if they have the data of at least one other person, intending to commit an identity fraud crime with the information. A conviction leads to a Class A misdemeanor. This is punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a maximum $1,000 fine.
If a person allegedly possesses two hundred fifty (250) or more items of personal identification data, officials can charge them with unlawful possession of personal identifying information in the second degree. On conviction, the person faces a Class E felony. A conviction leads to up to four years in state prison.
Officials can charge a person with unlawful possession of personal identifying information in the first degree if the person commits the crime in the second degree and has three or more accomplices to further identity theft. Persons previously convicted of identity theft or unlawful possession of personal identification data within the last five years can also face first-degree charges. The convicted gets a Class D felony on their criminal record, which carries a maximum seven-year prison sentence.
What counts as personal identifying information?
By law, the following counts as personal identifying information:
- Financial services account numbers
- Savings/Checking account numbers
- Brokerage account numbers
- Credit/Debit card numbers
- ATM codes
- Personal identification numbers (PINs)
- Mother’s maiden name
- Computer passwords
- Electronic signatures
- Biometric data (i.e., fingerprints, voice prints, retinal images, etc.)
The rules aren’t specific about how a person obtains the personal identifying information. For instance, if a person didn’t steal the data but purchased it from a hacker, they can still face possession charges.
Identity theft and fraud go hand in hand, but people should also keep in mind that New York also criminalizes the possession of stolen identification data. The state gives harsh penalties to anyone convicted of illegally possessing identification data.