Everybody knows that using somebody else’s identity for personal gain is wrong. But, in North Carolina, the law takes the crime of identity theft quite seriously.

In our state, for merely a first offense, identity theft is still considered a felony. That means that, if convicted of the crime, you wouldn’t be incarcerated in a county jail, you’d be locked up in a state or federal penitentiary for a year or longer. In fact, in North Carolina, the maximum punishment for this first offense can be 80 months of prison time, along with a monetary penalty of up to $50,000.

Our state also permits the victims of identity theft to pursue damages in civil court. That means you could have to additionally pay up to $5,000 per incident of theft or three times the amount of actual damages — whichever total is determined to be greater.

Identity theft involves using somebody else’s personal information, like their Social Security number, date of birth, mother’s maiden name or driver’s license to access bank accounts, open or charge credit cards, steal tax returns, write counterfeit checks and other criminal acts. Some thieves even use another’s identity to get a job or to rent an apartment. Personal information can be stolen the old-fashioned way, such as looking over someone’s shoulder at an ATM, or online, as today we have numerous usernames and passwords for a variety of accounts stored on the web.

If you are suspected of or facing charges of identity theft, it’s vital that you understand your legal rights. You can speak to a North Carolina defense attorney with experience in these kinds of white-collar crime cases to help you get the fairest treatment under the law.