Identity theft is a growing concern across the country. Like other states, Massachusetts makes identity theft a crime. It is also against the law to impersonate a police officer. Now, state Representative John Velis, has introduced a bill to make posing as a veteran, or active duty member of the military a crime. Apparently, some kinds of "identity theft" are treated differently than others.
Massachusetts' identity theft law makes it a crime to pose as another person without their authorization, to obtain money, credit, goods, services or anything of value. Another law makes it a crime to pretend to be a police officer, medical examiner, justice of the peace, notary public or other officers. Federal law also covers both identity theft and law enforcementimpersonation. While federal law already makes it a federal crime for a person to fraudulently claim to have received certain military medals, Representative Velis wants to create a stronger law at the state level.
The Stolen Valor Act of 2013 makes it a crime to falsely claim to have been awarded military decorations such as a Medal of Honor or Purple Heart, with the intent to obtain money, property or tangible benefit. The 2013 act is a revised version of the previous Stolen Valor Act which was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court for unconstitutionally violating the right to free speech.
The 2006 version of the Stolen Valor Act was challenged in the case of Xavier Alvarez. Alvarez was convicted for falsely saying he received a Congressional Medal of Honor. He challenged the case, arguing freedom of speech. In a 6 to 3 decision, the Court found the law violated constitutional guarantees of free speech. The revised version added language to make it a crime to impersonate for financial gain.
Velis, a Democrat representing Westfield, is a captain in the U.S. Army Reserves. The state's version of the Stolen Valor Act would make it a misdemeanor to wear a military uniform or military decorations for the purpose of financial gain. According to Velis, military impersonation is become more frequent. There are even websites dedicated to exposingmilitary frauds. However, there is little information on how often people are impersonating members of the military for their benefit.
Former Army Sergeant Anthony Anderson has a website which exposes alleged military imposters, to "guard against imposters." According to Anderson, state laws will hopefully strengthen federal laws. "This makes the issue much more visible and state lawmakers will probably come forward with their own bills," said Anderson.
If enacted, a violation of the law could result in a year in prison or a $1,000 fine. A similar law in New Jersey would make impersonating a veteran or military member punishable by up to five years in prison."For those of us who have served, we've all had friends who have died wearing the uniform, friends who lost limbs, we've all fought for the uniform, defended the uniform, defended the flag," said Velis, who has combat experience in Afghanistan.