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There is a lot of talk in the news media about identity theft. But until you have been the victim of identity theft or been accused of doing it, you may not realize exactly what the term means.

Simply put, identity theft means the fraudulent obtaining of another person’s personal information for some sort of personal gain, usually financial. Typically stolen data include social security numbers and ATM PIN codes. The person then uses the data to gain access to the victim’s assets, obtain loans in the victim’s name and so on.

This crime became significantly more common with the rise of the internet. In 1998, Congress passed a law making identity theft a federal crime, and followed up with a 2004 that imposed heavier penalties for “aggravated” identity theft.

To build a case against someone, police and prosecutors often use data from computers and online transactions. Interpreting such data is highly technical and often requires the use of experts. For this specialized area of white collar criminal law, it is important for a suspect to have a defense attorney who has experience.

Though identity theft is a federal crime and prosecutors in Michigan aggressively pursue charges, it is possible to mount a successful defense. But this is virtually impossible without an experienced defense attorney representing you. In that case, it is highly likely you will face prison time and heavy financial penalties. Nobody should try to take on the FBI, Federal Trade Commission and other federal agencies on their own.