Only a few countries, such as the United States and Australia, impose specific Internet theft penalties for identity theft fraud. The different types of Internet theft penalties penalties include incarceration, monetary fines and making restitution to the victim or victims. These crimes can vary by jurisdiction and might be as minor as misdemeanors or as serious as felonies.
In the U.S., Internet theft penalties for offenses such as identity theft, identity fraud and identity theft scams fall under two general categories: federal penalties and state penalties. Federal penalties are uniform for various breaches of these laws, but state punishments vary. The U.S. Identity Theft Protection Act of 2004 provided tougher sanctions for those convicted of identity theft or fraud. Under the law, maximum Internet theft penalties were increased from three to five years in federal prison, and some offenses were changed from misdemeanors to felonies.
The law added enhancements for phishing scams and aggravated identity theft. If a criminal used stolen personal data to commit another crime, such as immigration fraud, time could be added to the prison sentence, because the crime is considered aggravated identity theft. Additionally, any terrorist act that arises from identity theft could be punishable by as much as 25 years in prison, or possibly more.
Individual U.S. states’ laws and Internet theft penalties range from misdemeanor crimes to felonies. Penalties for serious violations of the law vary but could include fines of $100,000 US Dollars or more and imprisonment for 10 years or more. A basic premise of identity theft in all states requires restitution for any losses suffered by the victim. Offenders can be tried in state or federal courts, depending on the circumstances of the crime.
Under its anti-spamming law, Australia imposes also Internet theft penalties. Violators can be jailed, fined or both. As of 2010, Canada was reviewing proposed legislation to provide identity theft protection for its citizens, and no such laws existed in Europe, China, Japan or in other industrialized nations. The lack of international Internet theft penalties hampers investigators who seek information about Internet crimes committed in foreign countries. Cybercriminals often find safe haven from prosecution in countries that do not have Internet theft penalties.
More identity theft cases occur in the U.S., where personal information is readily available through public and private databases, than anywhere else. Several organized identity theft rings that prey on victims, especially the elderly, have been identified around the world. As confidential information becomes more common on social networking sites, through online banking and from Internet shopping, the number of these crimes is considered likely to rise.