In Missouri, people commit identity theft, also called identity fraud, by using other people’s personal information for their own gain. Identity thieves “steal” personal information from public records, online sources, trash, mail, purses, and wallets, and use the information to access the victim’s bank accounts and credit cards, or establish new accounts and run up debt, ruining the victim’s credit.
For general information on the crime of identity theft, see The Crime of Identity Theft.
Under Missouri’s laws, a person commits the crime of identity theft by possessing, using, or transferring (or attempting to posses, use, or transfer) the means of identification belonging to another with the intent to deceive or defraud (obtain something of value by deception).
“Means of identification” is another way of saying “personal identifying information” and includes:
- social security and drivers license numbers
- passports and birth certificates
- mother’s maiden name
- checking and savings account numbers
- credit and debit card numbers
- PIN codes and passwords
- fingerprints, and
- any other information used to access financial accounts.
For example, going into a person’s home and taking a lockbox containing the person’s birth certificate, social security card, and financial documents in order to open credit card accounts in the victim's name is identity theft. The crime is completed when the defendant takes possession of the victim’s means of identification for an illicit purpose, even if the thief never actually uses the information. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 570.223.)
Obtaining or Using a Credit Card by Fraud
Missouri’s identity theft law is broad and intended to cover lots of different criminal activity. Missouri also has a law against obtaining a credit or debit card by fraud. It is a crime to:
- make a false statement regarding another person in order to procure a credit or debit card, or
- use another person’s personal identifying information (name, address, telephone number, driver's license number, social security number, place of employment, mother's maiden name, bank account number, or credit card number) to buy or try to buy goods or services or obtain credit in the victim’s name without the victim’s consent.
For example, a person who gives a false name to open a utility account has committed a crime. However, it is not a crime to use another person’s credit card with the person’s consent. A child who uses a parent’s card with permission has not committed a crime. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 570.135.)
False Identification for Minors
In Missouri, a minor who obtains the personal identifying information of another in order to buy alcohol or cigarettes or gamble is not guilty of identity theft. It is, however, a crime to use or possess means of identification in order to manufacture or sell false identification to people under the age of 21 for the purpose of purchasing alcohol. A teenager who possesses a fake identification card in order to visit bars has not committed identity fraud, but the person who made and sold the card may have committed a crime. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 570.223.)
For more information on minor's buying and possessing alcohol, see Missouri Minor in Possession of Alcohol Laws.
Trafficking in Stolen Identities
A person who manufactures, transfers, buys, sells, or possesses with intent to sell means of identification in order to commit identity fraud commits the crime of trafficking in stolen identities. Possession of five or more means of identification for one person or the means of identification for five or more people without the victims' consent and other than the defendant’s own means of identification is evidence of intent to commit identity theft. For example, a person who is found with a stash of 100 credit card numbers (not his or her own) could be convicted of trafficking. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 570.224.)
The punishment for identity theft in Missouri depends on the amount of the resulting loss. For example, identity theft that results in theft of more than $50,000 is a class A felony, punishable by a minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum of 30 years’ or life imprisonment. Identity theft that does not result in any losses is a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $500. Second and subsequent convictions may be punished more severely. The court may also order the defendant to pay restitution to the victim for any costs incurred by the victim as a result of the crime, including the cost of clearing the victim’s credit history. The defendant may also be liable to the victim for civil damages.
Trafficking in stolen identities is a class B felony, punishable by five to 15 years in prison. It is a class A misdemeanor to:
- make a false statement in order to obtain a credit or debit card
- use a person’s personal identifying information to buy things or obtain credit without the person’s consent, or
- use or possess means of identification in order to make false identification cards for minors.
Class A misdemeanors are punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.
(Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 570.135, 570.223, 570.224.)
Obtaining Legal Assistance
If you are charged with identity theft or a related crime, you should contact a Missouri criminal defense attorney. An attorney can help you understand the charges against you and help you determine your best options. With an attorney’s help, you can protect your rights and successfully navigate the criminal justice system. If you are a victim of identity theft, you may also want to consult with an attorney, since you may be able to recover damages from the thief in civil court.