What to Do if Your Identity Is Stolen

  • What to Do if Your Identity Is Stolen
19 Apr, 2024
Daniel Cohen
20 min
249
What to Do if Your Identity Is Stolen

Protecting Your Identity: Expert Legal Solutions for Stolen Identities

Concerned about identity theft? Learn effective strategies to combat identity theft and safeguard your personal information. Discover how professional attorneys can assist you in resolving identity theft issues and regain control of your identity

As lawyers for identity theft victims, the legal team at Consumer Attorneys knows your rights, the legal obligations of the consumer reporting agencies and financial institutions that need to correct your credit record, and if and when it’s time to sue. Read on to everything you need to know about this common crime with outsized consequences. Then, call us today to learn how we can help you. Our consultations are always free. 

What is Identity Theft?

With the growth of technology in our lives, identity theft has become an increasingly prevalent crime that affects millions of people annually. Identity theft involves using someone's personal information - like their name, social security number and credit card info- for fraud or other illegal activities. The results can be severe; financial loss, damage to credit scores and emotional distress all play a role. This highly detailed thesis will elaborate at length on the growing problem of ID theft in the United States, explaining what it is, how it happens, and what to do about it if it happens to you.

Identity theft is a serious crime that can have serious repercussions for victims. But the key to overcoming it lies in recognizing the signs, taking immediate action, and working with credit bureaus and financial institutions to repair any damage done. Stay vigilant by regularly checking your credit reports and monitoring financial accounts to protect yourself personally.

How Many Americans Fall Prey To Identity Theft Every Year?

Identity theft is an increasing concern in America, and affects millions of Americans each year. Our lives are becoming increasingly tech-driven, making us all much more susceptible to all kinds of cybercrimes. Everyday, there are more opportunities for malicious actors to fraudulently access and use financial and personal data.

  1. Statistics on Identity Theft in America
    According to the Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book (FTC), there were more than 1.4 million identity theft reports in 2020. Americans lost more than $3.3 trillion to these crimes. This is a significant increase in identity theft cases than previous years.
    In 2020, the most prevalent types of identity theft were credit card fraud and fraud involving government documents or benefits. There are other types of identity theft as well, such as tax identity theft and medical identity theft.
  2. Factors that Contribute to Identity Theft
    There are many factors that contribute to identity theft in the United States. The increasing availability of personal information online is one factor. Online transactions are becoming more popular as people share more sensitive information online that could be used to commit identity theft.
    Cybercriminals are also a big factor in modern identity theft. Cybercriminals are using sophisticated techniques such as phishing emails and social engineering to steal sensitive information from businesses and individuals.
  3. COVID-19
    Lastly, the pandemic also led to an increase of identity theft, largely due to the changes in employment practices that have many more people working from home. Criminals are now able to target both individuals and businesses by taking advantage of the increase in people working remotely and doing business online.

A Quick Overview

Identity theft can happen to anyone at any time, in a wide variety of scenarios, and the effects can be devastating. Briefly summarized here, and explained in more detail in the following pages, are some steps you should take if you become a victim of identity theft:

  1. Act Quickly to Minimize Damage
    If you believe your identity has been stolen, whatever the circumstances are, you need to act immediately. Delaying will only increase the potential damage done by an identity thief.
  2. Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
    You can report identity theft to the FTC at www.usa.gov/identity-theft who will then create an identity theft report that you can use if necessary to dispute fraudulent charges with creditors.
  3. Contact The Police
    Get in touch with local and federal authorities and file police and other relevant reports.
  4. Review Your Credit Report and Financial Statements
    Once you've taken the initial steps to limit damage, it is essential to review your credit report and financial statements for any inaccurate or unauthorized transactions or accounts that weren't opened by you. At AnnualCreditReport.com, you can get a free copy of each major bureau's report once annually for free. Even a small discrepancy can mean someone has compromised your information in some way, so check thoroughly.
  5. Dispute Fraudulent Charges and Errors on Your Credit Report
    If you discover unauthorized charges or any kind of inaccuracies on your credit card or bank account statements, or even just one mistake on your credit report, it is essential that you take immediate steps to dispute them, starting with…
  6. Send a Dispute Letter
    If the creditor or financial institution is unwilling to resolve your dispute, send them a certified letter via certified mail with any documentation supporting your claims. If they fail to respond or deal with it, causing you financial and/or emotional harm, they may be liable and you can sue them for damages and compensation.
  7. Follow Up
    Stay informed about your dispute and follow up with the police, as well as the involved creditors or financial institutions until it is resolved.

By taking these steps you begin the process of pursuing the criminals who have done you wrong, correcting the false information wrongly showing on your credit reports, and protecting yourself from further harm to clear your name and finally start rebuilding your financial life.

Now, let’s dig deeper into the details of how that works, while also learning more about Identity theft.

Where Could an Identity Thief Access Your Personal Information?

With technology making it increasingly easier for identity thieves to access personal data, being aware of where these thieves are likely to access your details is an essential step in safeguarding yourself against identity theft.

  1. Online
    Identity thieves often access personal information through online channels. They may use tactics such as phishing, malware, and hacking to take your details. For instance, they might send you an email that appears legitimate but requests personal details like your social security number, credit card information or login credentials. Once they possess this data they can access your accounts, steal money from you, or open credit cards in your name. 
  2. Physical Documents
    Identity thieves may access your personal information through physical documents such as pay stubs, unemployment cheques or records, bills, credit card statements or tax forms. They may steal the contents of these items or dumpster dive for discarded documents that contain personal data. Once they possess this data, they can commit identity theft against you.
  3. Public Wi-Fi Networks
    Public Wi-Fi networks can be another avenue for identity thieves to steal your personal information. They may set up fake Wi-Fi networks or use software to intercept data sent over a legitimate network. If you access sensitive data like online banking or credit card info while using public Wi-Fi, an identity thief could easily capture that data and use it to commit identity theft.
     

How To Report Identity Theft

If you’ve determined that you have likely become a victim of ID theft, it’s time to sound the alarm!

  1. Contact The Federal Trade Commission
    The first step to reporting identity theft is to contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Victims can report identity theft to their local police department or file a report with the FTC online, by phone, or by mail. It’s best to do it online at www.identitytheft.gov, who will then create an identity theft report that you can use to dispute fraudulent charges with creditors.
    A good reason to contact the FTC first is that they require a lot of the same information as the police, and you can use the agency's Identity Theft Report Form to help organize your thoughts and information.
  2. Report It to Law Enforcement
    Any victim of ID theft should also immediately call the police. It’s important to provide as much information as possible, including the date and time of the theft, the types of personal information stolen, and any financial losses incurred as a result of the theft. You should also ask for a copy of the police report and case number, which they may need when reporting the theft to other entities.
  3. Contact Credit Bureaus and Financial Institutions
    The next step is to contact the three major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – and inform them of the theft. Victims can request a free credit report from each of the bureaus, which they should review carefully for any suspicious activity.
    You should also contact the various financial institutions in your life, including banks, credit card companies, and investment accounts, and inform them of the theft. It may even be necessary to close accounts and open new ones to prevent further unauthorized transactions. Financial institutions can also assist in identifying any fraudulent charges and may be able to help recover any stolen funds.
  4. Place a Fraud Alert or Security Freeze on Your Credit Report
    After reporting the identity theft to the credit bureaus, you should consider placing a fraud alert or security freeze on your credit report. A fraud alert notifies creditors that you may be a victim of identity theft and asks them to take extra precautions to verify your identity before granting credit.
    A security freeze, on the other hand, restricts access to your credit report entirely, making it more challenging for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name.
    You can typically place a fraud alert or security freeze on your credit report by contacting each of the three credit bureaus. It is essential to keep in mind that these actions can make it more challenging to obtain credit or loans in the future because your credit report is essentially suspended. You should weigh the potential risks and benefits before taking these steps.

How to File a Police Report for an Identity Theft

As stated above, it is crucial to report the crime to law enforcement as soon as possible and to get a copy of any resulting police report.

  1. Gather Evidence
    Before filing a police report, you should gather as much evidence as possible to support your case. This may include any fraudulent credit card statements, bank statements, or other financial documents that show unauthorized charges or transactions.
    You should also collect any other documentation related to the theft, such as emails or letters from creditors or collection agencies, and any correspondence with credit bureaus or other entities regarding the theft.
    It is essential to organize this information and keep it in a safe place, as it will be crucial in supporting your case and proving that you are a victim of identity theft.
  2. Contact Your Local Police Department
    Once you have gathered evidence, you should contact your local police department to file a report. You can typically file a police report in person or over the phone, depending on your local police department's policies.
    When you speak with a police officer, you should provide them with as much information as possible about the theft, including the date and time that you first became aware of the theft, the types of personal information that were stolen, and any financial losses that you have incurred as a result of the theft.
    It is also essential to provide any evidence that you have gathered to support your case, including credit reports, bank statements, and other financial documents.
  3. Follow Up with Law Enforcement
    After filing a police report, it is essential to follow up with law enforcement regularly to ensure that your case has not been mistakenly set-aside and is being properly investigated. You should provide any additional information that you become aware of, including any new fraudulent transactions or suspicious activity on your accounts.
    If you have any questions or concerns about your case, you should contact the police department and speak with the detective or officer assigned to your case.
    It is also a good idea to keep detailed records of all of your interactions with law enforcement, including the dates and times of phone calls or meetings, the names of the officers or detectives that you spoke with, and any case or reference numbers provided.

While the process of filing a police report for identity theft can be challenging and time-consuming, it is crucial to take action as soon as possible. By taking these steps, you can begin the process of re-establishing your identity and recovering from the financial and personal impact of identity theft.

What Happens When You Report Identity Theft?

After you report an ID theft the police, FTC, and credit bureaus will begin investigating your claim, this process might sometimes require your involvement.

  1. Investigating the Theft
    After you report identity theft, the authorities will begin investigating it. This can involve reviewing your credit reports and financial accounts, interviewing witnesses, and analyzing any evidence that you have provided.
    During the investigation, you may be asked to provide additional information or documentation to support your case. It is essential to cooperate with the authorities and provide any information that they request promptly.
  2. Resolving the Theft
    Once the authorities have completed their investigation, they will work with you to resolve the identity theft. This can involve working with creditors and financial institutions to close fraudulent accounts, removing unauthorized charges from your accounts, and repairing any damage to your credit report caused by transactions being falsely attributed to you.
    In some cases, the authorities may be able to identify and apprehend the person or people responsible for the theft. If this occurs, the individual or individuals may face criminal charges and be required to pay restitution for any damages that they have caused.
    Again, throughout the process of resolving the identity theft, it is essential to keep detailed records of all communications and transactions. This can include keeping copies of police reports, correspondence with creditors and financial institutions, and any other documentation related to the theft.

When you report identity theft, you can expect the authorities to investigate the theft, work with you to resolve the theft, and potentially identify and prosecute the person or people responsible for the theft. Always remember that as both a consumer and a citizen, YOU HAVE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS THAT CANNOT BE DENIED!

What Are The Penalties For Identity Theft?

Penalties for crimes like identity theft can vary quite a lot. There are different laws in every state, and also various federal laws that pertain to ID theft and data-based crimes. However, in general they are usually felonies that can warrant significant jail time and fines.

  1. Penalties
    The penalties for identity theft vary depending on the circumstances of the crime, the jurisdiction in which it was committed, and the severity of the offense. In general, however, identity theft is considered a felony offense and can result in imprisonment, fines, and other consequences.
    In the United States, federal law establishes a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for individuals convicted of identity theft. Additionally, many states have their own laws that impose additional penalties for identity theft.
  2. Factors that Influence Penalties
    There are several factors that can influence the severity of the penalties for identity theft. For example, the amount of money or property stolen, the number of victims involved, and the defendant's criminal history can all impact the sentence that is imposed.
    The manner in which the identity theft was committed can also influence the penalties. For example, using physical force or threatening the victim can result in more severe penalties than using a computer or other electronic means to steal someone's identity.
    Finally, the level of cooperation by the defendant can also impact the penalties. If a defendant cooperates with law enforcement, helps identify other criminals involved in the scheme, or makes restitution to the victim, they may receive a more lenient sentence.
  3. Seeking Restitution as a Victim
    Victims of identity theft may be entitled to seek restitution from the perpetrator of the crime. Restitution can include compensation for expenses related to the theft, such as lost wages, legal fees, and the cost of credit monitoring.
    In addition to seeking restitution from the perpetrator, victims may also be able to recover damages from other parties that were involved in the identity theft. For example, a bank or credit card company that failed to detect fraudulent activity may be held liable for damages. This is often the primary way that victims receive restitution after an ID theft.

How You Can Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft

Individuals can take several steps to prevent identity theft:

  1. Protect Your Personal Information
    Protecting your personal information is one of the best ways to prevent identity theft. This includes your Social Security number, birth date, and any other sensitive information.
    Be cautious about whom you share personal information with. Always verify the legitimacy and authenticity of the individual or organization requesting it. Secure passwords are important and should be kept private. Don't give out any personal information online or over the phone, especially if the contact was not initiated by you.
  2. Monitor Your Credit Reports
    It is important to regularly monitor your credit reports in order to protect yourself against identity theft. At least once per year, you should review your credit reports from all three credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion).
    Report any suspicious accounts or inquiries immediately. You might consider a credit monitoring service, which will notify you of any changes to credit reports. 
  3. Beware of Fraudulent and Scam Activities
    Fraudsters and scammers often use clever techniques to get people to give them personal information or their money. Unsolicited calls, emails or texts asking for personal information and payment should be avoided.
    Be careful when clicking on links and downloading attachments from unknown sources. This could expose you to malware and other harmful software. It is possible for an offer to seem too good to be true.
  4. Protect Your Electronic Devices
    It is crucial to secure your electronic devices against hackers and cybercriminals in today's digital age. Use encryption software to secure sensitive information and make sure that your devices are password-protected. 
  5. Avoid Public Wi-Fi
    Public Wi-Fi networks can be vulnerable to hackers so be cautious. To protect your internet activities and encrypt your connection, you might consider using a virtual private networking (VPN).
  6. Shred Sensitive Documents
    Personal information should not be stored in any document. This applies to bank statements, credit card statements and other financial documents.
    Thieves have the ability to easily access personal information stored in trash. It is therefore important to take this simple step to safeguard yourself.

These simple steps can help individuals protect themselves against becoming victims. Individuals can reduce the likelihood of identity theft by being proactive and vigilant. This will help to protect them from the financial and emotional consequences of the crime.

What Steps Should You Take To Re-Establish Your Identity?

It can be a very stressful and time-consuming process to re-establish your identity. Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Contact the Companies Where the Fraudulent Activity Occurred
    If you know which accounts have been compromised, contact the companies immediately and inform them of the identity theft. They can help you freeze or close the accounts and investigate the fraud. 
  2. Change Your Passwords and PINs
    If any of your accounts have been compromised, change the passwords and PINs immediately to prevent further unauthorized access. It’s actually a good idea to do this with ALL of your passwords, PINs, and other identifiers after any kind of ID theft. Just because an ID thief didn’t take anything yet doesn’t always mean they still can’t.
  3. Consider Getting a New Social Security Number
    If your Social Security number has been compromised, you can request a new one from the Social Security Administration. It might be something to consider in any situation where your identity might have been compromised, even if it did not involve your Social Security number.
  4. Monitor Your Accounts Regularly
    Keep a close eye on all of your accounts for any suspicious activity. If you see anything unusual, report it immediately to law enforcement and the appropriate financial institution(s). Prompt reporting can help prevent further losses and increase the chances of recovering stolen funds.
  5. Consider Identity Theft Protection
    There are many services that offer identity theft protection, which can help you monitor your credit report, detect suspicious activity, and provide assistance in case of identity theft.

How to Repair Your Credit Score Following Identity Theft

Identity theft can cause damage to your credit score and make it hard for you to get loans, credit cards, or other forms of credit. There are steps that you can take to restore your credit score following identity theft. These are some options to consider:

  1. Check Credit Reports
    As stated elsewhere, checking your credit reports for fraud and errors is the first step to fixing your credit score following identity theft. Each of the three major credit reporting agencies, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, will provide a free copy once a year.
    You should carefully review your credit reports to identify any accounts you have not opened, incorrect personal information or other signs of identity theft. You should report any errors or fraudulent accounts to the credit reporting agencies.
  2. Get In Touch With Your Creditors
    You should contact creditors to dispute fraudulent accounts found on your credit reports. To prove you didn't open the account, you may have to produce documentation such as a police log.
    Your credit score will improve once the fraudulent accounts are removed from your credit reports. It may take several months before your credit score fully recovers, depending on how severe the identity theft was.

Pursuing Litigation for Restitution and Compensation for Identity Theft Under the FCRA

As a general rule, suing the perpetrators of the actual crime is difficult or pointless, more frequently lawsuits arise from credit reporting agencies (CRAs) not following proper procedures as required by law. Once you notify them of the crime, it is incumbent upon them to protect your information. Quite frequently this does not happen, leading to continued suffering for which they are legally liable. There are 3 major CRAs you’ll usually have to deal with: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

This brings us to a powerful avenue for seeking relief through litigation: The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The FCRA is a federal law that provides important rights and protections for consumers who have fallen victim to identity theft. Here are some key protections of the FCRA that relate specifically to identity theft:

  1. Blocking of Fraudulent Information
    The FCRA also allows identity theft victims to request that fraudulent information be blocked from their credit report. This can include accounts or inquiries that were not authorized by the victim. To request blocking, you will need to provide proof of your identity, a copy of the identity theft report, and a written statement specifying the fraudulent information to be blocked. Once filed, the CRAs have 4 business days to comply, if they don’t you can pursue litigation against them under the FCRA to receive restitution and punitive damages including cash compensation.
  2. Fraud Alerts
    You have the right to place a fraud alert on your credit report. This alert notifies potential creditors that you may be a victim of identity theft and requires them to take additional steps to verify your identity before extending credit in your name. Fraud alerts can be placed with one or all of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion), and they are initially effective for 90 days, but can be extended up to seven years. Usually they last for one year unless the involved consumer requests a removal.
  3. Credit Freezes
    You also have the right to request a credit freeze on your credit report, which restricts access to your credit information by potential creditors. This can prevent identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name. Once a credit freeze is in place, creditors will generally require you to provide a personal identification number (PIN) to lift the freeze when you apply for credit. Credit freezes can be requested with each of the three major credit bureaus and remain in effect until you lift them.
  4. Dispute Rights
    Under the FCRA, you have the right to dispute inaccurate or fraudulent information on your credit report that resulted from identity theft. Once you file a dispute with a credit bureau, they are required to investigate and correct any errors within a reasonable timeframe. If the credit bureau fails to respond or correct the inaccurate information, you may have grounds for legal action under the FCRA.
  5. Right to Information
    Identity theft victims have the right to request information from businesses that opened fraudulent accounts or processed fraudulent transactions in their name. This can help victims gather evidence and pursue legal action against the perpetrators of the identity theft. Businesses are required to provide this information upon request, and failure to do so may result in penalties under the FCRA.
  6. Remedies for Violations
    The FCRA provides remedies for identity theft victims whose rights have been violated, including the right to seek damages, attorney's fees, and costs. If a credit bureau or creditor fails to comply with the FCRA's requirements, you may have grounds for legal action to seek compensation for your losses. This can include actual damages, such as financial losses resulting from the identity theft, as well as statutory damages, which are damages set by law and can range from $100 to $1,000 per violation of the FCRA. Additionally, you may be entitled to attorney's fees and costs incurred in pursuing the litigation.

Pursuing litigation under the FCRA can be a legal avenue to gain restitution and compensation for identity theft. Remember that each case is unique, and it's crucial to work with an experienced attorney who can provide tailored legal advice and representation to maximize your chances of success in resolving identity theft under the FCRA.

What Kind of Lawyer Do I Need to Deal With an Identity Theft?

If you have been a victim of identity theft, you may need to consult with a lawyer to help you deal with the aftermath. However, not all lawyers are equipped to handle identity theft cases. Here are some factors to consider when choosing a lawyer for your identity theft case:

  1. Experience with Identity Theft Cases and Background in Consumer Litigation
    Experience and specialization in identity theft law are crucial factors to consider. An experienced identity theft lawyer will have a successful track record in handling similar cases, being familiar with the relevant laws and regulations, and navigating the complex legal process involved in resolving identity theft cases. Additionally, a specialized identity theft lawyer will have a deep understanding of the legal issues involved in identity theft cases and a network of contacts in the industry, including investigators and other experts, to assist in building a strong case.
  2. Knowledge of Consumer Protection Laws
    Identity theft is often a violation of consumer protection laws, so it is important to choose a lawyer who is well-versed in these laws. This includes the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), and other laws that protect consumers from fraudulent practices.
    A lawyer who is familiar with consumer protection laws will be able to help you navigate the process of disputing fraudulent charges, working to clean errors on your credit report, and dealing with debt collectors.
  3. Ability to Work with Credit Bureaus and Other Agencies
    Dealing with credit bureaus, financial institutions, and other agencies can be a complex and time-consuming process. Look for a lawyer who has experience working with these organizations and can advocate on your behalf.
    An experienced identity theft lawyer will know how to communicate effectively with these organizations and will be able to help you resolve disputes quickly and efficiently.
  4. Communication Skills
    Finally, it is important to choose a lawyer who has excellent communication skills. Your lawyer will need to keep you informed throughout the process and be able to explain complex legal issues in a way that is easy to understand.
    Choose a lawyer who is responsive and communicative, and who will be available to answer your questions and provide updates on your case. Look for someone with experience in handling similar cases, a specialization in identity theft law, knowledge of consumer protection laws, the ability to work with credit bureaus and other agencies, and excellent communication skills.

By choosing the right lawyer, you can increase your chances of a successful outcome and minimize the impact of identity theft on your life.

Conclusion

Identity theft is real, and if it happens to you need to regard it very seriously and take immediate action. You can take steps to protect your credit score and fix identity theft. You can check your credit reports for fraudulent accounts and errors, put a fraud alert on your credit report and credit freeze, contact your creditors to dispute the fraudulent charges, and / or find a lawyer to help with all of this and perhaps pursue restitution. These strategies will help you rebuild your credit and take control of your finances.

This document has explained all the steps you need to take to deal with an ID theft on your own, but it’s always a good idea to have professional help for this process. If you want one of the largest and most experienced FCRA consumer law firms on your side, give us a call at Consumer Attorneys. There's also no risk or cost to you, FCRA law demands we only bill the people we sue, NOT our clients. We’ve settled more than 1000 cases earning our clients a still-growing total of over $250,000,000.

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Daniel Cohen
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Daniel Cohen is a Founding Partner of Consumer Attorneys and a co-chair of Consumer Finance Litigation practice. Since 2017, he is a member of the National Association of Consumer Advocates and the National Consumer Law Center. Mr. Cohen is a nationally-recognized practitioner of consumer protection law. He has a wealth of proven legal experience in the US in: collective claims, representing visually impaired people who believe their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act have been violated in both the physical and digital environments, corporate governance and dispute resolution. Read more

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