In Mississippi, the crime of identity theft, also called identity fraud, is committed by using someone else’s personal identifying information to commit financial fraud or theft. Mississippi lawmakers have enacted a variety of criminal laws that target identity thieves. Generally, identity thieves “steal” a person’s identifying information (from public records, online sources, trash, mail, or personal documents) and then use the information to access the victim’s financial accounts, or establish new accounts and run up debt.
For general information on the crime of identity theft, see Identity Theft Law.
In Mississippi, a person commits the crime of identity theft by obtaining (or attempting to obtain) someone else’s personal identifying information without the other person’s permission in order to:
- obtain credit
- purchase or lease real or personal property
- obtain employment
- access medical records, or
- commit any illegal act.
Personal identifying information. For purposes of Mississippi’s identity theft law, personal identifying information includes social security numbers, driver’s license or state identification numbers, employment information, and financial account information. For example, a person who signed a lease under someone else’s social security number without the other person’s knowledge has committed identity theft. However, a college student who uses a parent’s name and employment information to co-sign a lease with the parent’s permission has not committed a crime.
(Miss. Code Ann. §§ 97-45-1, 97-45-19.)
Fraudulent Use of Identity
People in Mississippi commit the crime of fraudulent use of personal identifying information by doing any of the following to obtain (or with the intent of obtaining) goods, services, or credit:
- furnishing false information or making a false statement about their identity or another person’s identity
- using a false social security number
- posing as someone else to open bank accounts, credit cards, or other accounts, or
- altering, buying, or selling a social security card; or possessing a social security card with the intent to do so.
Mississippi law also makes it a crime to impersonate someone else and receive money or anything else of value intended for the victim. For example, a person who poses as a neighbor without permission and receives a package containing the neighbor’s blank checkbooks has committed a crime.
(Miss. Code Ann. §§ 97-19-35, 97-19-85.)
Mississippi law also criminalizes several offenses related to identity fraud.
Under Mississippi’s laws, it is a crime to use someone else’s computer password without permission or deny anyone full access to a computer network or system. For example, a thief who changes online banking passwords so that the victims cannot access their bank accounts commits a crime. It is also a crime to impersonate a person online for any improper purpose, including fraud. (Miss. Code Ann. §§ 97-45-5, 97-45-33.)
It is also a crime in Mississippi to use a scanning device or reencoder to copy, distribute, or change credit card information with the intent to defraud and without the cardholder’s consent. For example, a person who attaches a scanning device to a checkout stand at a grocery store to read and copy credit card numbers has committed a crime. (Miss. Code Ann. § 97-45-31.)
Interfering with an investigation
Finally, it is also a crime in Mississippi to make a false statement to law enforcement officers about your or someone else’s identity, social security number, or personal identifying information. In order to be convicted of this crime, the defendant must make the statement to the officer in the course of the officer’s official duties and must intend to mislead the officer. (Miss. Code Ann. § 97-9-79.)
Identity theft that involves losses of less than $250 is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. Otherwise, identity theft is a felony, punishable by two to 15 years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. The court may also order the defendant to pay restitution to the victim of up to $5,000 for any financial losses suffered as a result of the crime, and double the cost of the state’s investigation into the crime.
Fraudulent use of personal identifying information is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000, up to five years in prison, or both. Second and subsequent offenses are punished more severely. The court may also order the defendant to pay restitution to the victim.
A person convicted of impersonating another to receive money or anything else of value may be punished as if convicted of theft.
For more information on theft penalties in Mississippi, see Mississippi Petty Theft and Other Theft Laws.
Using or changing computer passwords or denying people access to computer networks is punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both, unless the crime results in losses of $100 or more. Then, the crime is punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. Impersonating someone online is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. Improperly using a scanning device or reencoder is punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. Making a false statement of identity to a law enforcement officer is punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.
(Miss. Code Ann. §§ 97-9-79, 97-19-35, 97-19-85, 97-45-5, 97-45-19, 97-45-25, 97-45-31, 97-45-33, 99-37-3.)
Obtaining Legal Assistance
If you are charged with identity theft, you should talk to an attorney. Mississippi’s laws criminalizing identity theft are extensive and complicated. Only a criminal defense attorney who practices in Mississippi is qualified to help you understand how your case is likely to fare there and what are your options. Working with an attorney will give you the best chance to successfully navigate the criminal justice system.