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Is identity theft a felony?

The criminal defense attorneys at Meyer Van Severen, S.C. defend identity theft cases

And we defend all crimes throughout Wisconsin.  The term identity theft spans a broad range of crimes.  Importantly, Wisconsin does not have a crime that goes by this specific title.  There are many versions of identity theft.  Criminal defense attorney Matthew Meyer explains them all in this blog post.  (And the answer to the blog post title is yes: it is a felony in most cases.)

Focused on defending individuals throughout Wisconsin, Meyer Van Severen, S.C. is a top Milwaukee criminal defense law firm.  For criminal defense representation call us at (414) 270-0202.  Hiring a top criminal defense attorney is crucial to your successful defense.  Below, attorney Meyer will describe identity theft cases and whether they’re felonies.


Unauthorized use of an individual’s identifying information

When an individual thinks of identity theft, it’s probably along the lines of a crime called unauthorized use of an individual’s identifying information.  And the crime is just how it sounds: the defendant uses some kind of identifying information in an unauthorized manner.  Of course, it becomes criminal behavior when the person attempts to obtain something.  Unauthorized use of an individual’s identifying information is prohibited by section 943.201 of the Wisconsin Statutes.  And it’s a felony.

What kind of “identifying information” does this mean?

The law prohibits the unauthorized use of information that can be associated with the victim through identifiers, documents, cards, or plates containing information, such as:

  • The victim’s name, address, telephone number, or driver license number;
  • Victim’s social security number;
  • The victim’s employer, or an identification number assigned by the employer;
  • Victim’s mother’s maiden name;
  • The victim’s bank account or tax identification number;
  • Victim’s DNA profile; or
  • With or without conjunctive assistance of any access device: the victim’s code or account number, electronic serial number, mobile identification number, personal identification number, or any other means of account access.

When does the behavior become criminal?

Simply possessing these items may not be a crime.  Section 943.201(2) indicates:

Whoever, for any of the following purposes, intentional uses, attempts to use, or possesses with intent to use [the personal identifying documents above] of an individual, including a deceased individual, without the authorization or consent of the individual and by representing that he or she is the individual, that he or she is acting with authorization or consent of the individual, or that the information or document belongs to him or her is guilty of a Class H felony:

The “following purposes” include:

  • Obtaining credit, money, goods, services, employment, or any other thing of value or benefit;
  • Avoiding civil or criminal process or penalty; and
  • Harming the reputation, property, person, or estate of the victim.

The criminal penalty:

A Class H felony include a penalty of up to 6 years in prison and a $10,000.00 fine.


Unauthorized use of a business’s identifying information

Stealing a business’s information is another form of identity theft.  This crime is a little different, as it focuses on the defendant using a business’s rather than an individual’s information.  In this form of identity theft, the defendant uses “identifying information” just like in the previous discussion.  Listed in section 943.203 of the Wisconsin Statutes, identifying information here means:

  • The name, address, telephone number, employer identification number, depository account number, of an entity; or
  • An entity’s code or account number, electronic serial number, mobile identification number, or other telecommunications service, equipment, or instrument identifier.  This information is used alone or in conjunction with an access device (like a phone or computer).

When does this behavior become criminal?

Section 943.203(2) of the Wisconsin Statutes indicates:

Whoever, for any of the following purposes, intentionally uses, attempts to use, possesses with intent to use any identifying information or identification document or an entity without the authorization or consent of the entity and by representing that the person is the entity or is acting with the authorization and consent of the entity is guilty of a Class H felony.

The “following purposes” include:

  • Obtaining credit, money, goods, services, or anything else of value or benefit; and
  • To harm the reputation or property of the entity.

What is a Class H felony?

The punishment for Unauthorized use of an entity’s identifying information or documents is a Class H felony.  A convicted defendant faces up to 6 years in prison, a $10,000.00 fine, or both.


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Financial transaction card crimes – theft by taking card

Theft by taking card is straightforward.  The defendant commits this crime a few different ways.  No person shall:

  1. Obtain a financial transaction card (for example: credit or debit card) from another without the cardholder’s consent;
  2. Receive an illegally obtained financial transaction card with intent to use, sell, or transfer it to another person.  If a person possesses two or more financial transaction cards in two or more other names, it’s a facial showing of a violation of this subsection;
  3. Receive a financial transaction card that the person knows was lost, stolen, or delivered by mistake to the wrong cardholder.  The person retains possession of the card with intent to use, sell, or transfer it to someone other than the cardholder.  Possession of said card for longer than 7 days is a prima facie showing that the law has been violated;
  4. Other than the user, sell a financial card;
  5. Other than the issuer, buy a financial card;
  6. Obtain control over a financial transaction card as security for a debt with intent to defraud the issuer or any other person; or
  7. Receive a financial transaction card issued in the name of another person which he or she has reason to know was obtained in violation of the law.

What’s the penalty for this offense?

Theft by taking card isn’t what we typically consider identity theft.  But it is still criminal behavior.  It’s not a felony.  Instead, financial transaction card crimes – theft by taking card is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 9 months in jail, a $10,000.00 fine, or both.  Of course, there’s an exception.  Section 943.41(3)(e) is a Class I felony.  The defendant commits the crime when he receives a financial transaction card in the name of another person which he knows was illegally obtained.


Identity theft is a crime in Wisconsin
Identity theft is generally a felony in Wisconsin.

Harassment – Intentionally gains access to personally identifiable information

Prohibited by section 947.013, this section contains two lesser-known identity theft provisions.

Harassment is a crime committed when the defendant, with intent to harass or intimidate another person:

  • strikes, shoves, kicks or subjects the victim to physical contact or threatens to do so; or
  • engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly commits acts which harass or intimidate the victim and which serve no legitimate purpose.

The following circumstances apply:

  • The act is accompanied by a credible threat that places the victim in reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm; or
  • The act occurs while the actor is subject to an order or injunction that prohibits his contact with the victim.

When does this become a crime?

First, the above-listed requirements are met.  Then:

  1. This crime is a Class H felony if the defendant intentionally gains access to a record in electronic format that contains personally identifiable information regarding the victim in order to facilitate the crime.
  2. The crime is a Class H felony if the defendant was previously convicted of specific stalking and harassment charges, and the defendant intentionally gained access to a record in order to facilitate the harassment.

Remember, a Class H felony is punishable by up to 6 years in prison, a $10,000.00 fine, or both.


Meyer Van Severen, S.C. – top Milwaukee criminal defense

If you’ve been charged with an identity theft crime, it’s imperative you hire a top Milwaukee crimional defense attorney.  At Meyer Van Severen, S.C. we specialize in defending individuals accused of violating the law.  For a free initial consultation call us at (414) 270-0202.