ITRC Fact Sheet 301
Enhancing Law Enforcement and Identity Theft Victim Communications: A Tool for Law Enforcement Officers Working with Identity Theft Cases
This ITRC Fact Sheet includes:
- Facts About Victims of Identity Theft
- Developing Victim Guide Sheets
- The Initial Meeting
- The Victim as a "Limited Partner"
- Additional Resource Resources
Identity theft is a dual crime. It is fraud against the financial institution and the individual whose personal information has been abused. While the victim may eventually be made whole financially, it will take a tremendous amount of effort on their part, and there will still be residual effects. Just as with victims of violent crimes, physical wounds will heal, however scars remain. Victims of financial crimes experience a similar process. Both their trust and their financial stability have been violated. It is important for law enforcement to recognize that victims of identity theft (and financial crimes in general) are still crime victims. Communicating this fact compassionately and effectively is critical.
This fact sheet contains techniques that will help you to more effectively communicate with victims and build reasonable expectations. By turning victims into assets instead of liabilities, you actually save time and energy during case resolution.
The most frequent issue that victims report to the ITRC pertaining to law enforcement is an inability to obtain that most crucial document - a police report. Many jurisdictions are unaware of the laws in place that mandate this action. The ITRC has an interactive map that outlines the laws state by state. Have a question about the status of your jurisdiction? Click on the map for the answer. This first step, the police report, is critical for mitigation of identity theft cases.
When law enforcement is unwilling or unable to provide victims with a police report, the victim often feels that either the officer does not consider identity theft an important issue, or that the officer does not consider the identity theft victim to be a crime victim, perhaps because in some cases there is no long term financial loss.
The ITRC has worked with many peace officers and we know that the majority of those who work in law enforcement do care. During our communication with victims we reiterate this fact and attempt to set reasonable expectations for law enforcement support, as well help to define the role of law enforcement in the victims mind.
Some Facts About Victims of Identity Theft
• Victims of identity theft, as with any crime, are scared, confused, and have had their trust violated.
• Many victims report that the undermining of their financial health and good name has either permanently impacted their lives or has affected them for years. It is difficult for them to foresee a conclusion to their case when they continue to receive information regarding additional uses of their identifying information after the initial issue appears to have been resolved.
• Most of these people have never been a prior victim of crime, and thus have a limited understanding of the criminal justice system and the investigative process. They can become overly excited, demanding and anxious. They want everything done yesterday.
• Victims can uncover evidence that will be helpful in the case. It may not always be what you need, but it can help. Allowing the victim to become a resource in the investigation could produce positive results.
• Victims should be encouraged to become their own advocates. They need to continue to be a part of the process and feel like they are doing something to regain control. The ITRC helps to communicate self-advocacy to the victim while building reasonable expectations regarding the outcome of their case.
Prior to the Initial Meeting
ITRC recommends that each law enforcement agency develop and send out an Identity Theft Victim Guide, a tri-fold or letter. Many agencies have a communication piece for financial crimes in general and simply include Identity Theft as a facet of this piece.
This document should outline the initial steps for victims, and how to prepare for the investigator's phone call or visit. This will give victims a chance to get started immediately, fulfilling the desire to "get started now.” The worksheet will help them separate the relevant from the irrelevant and reduce your time spent gathering information during the initial process. This document should be made available to the victim either via mail, fax or website, on the same day the issue is reported.
Many agencies have developed victim-friendly communication pieces that can be used as a template. Please contact the ITRC for a referrals to other law enforcement entities that have engaged the ITRC in this endeavor and we can provide names and contact information.
After the opening greeting, your victim guide should provide:
• The first few steps a victim should take (examples):
Call the 3 credit reporting agencies, obtain copies of the credit reports, place a fraud alert, identify open fraud accounts and inquiries from companies that have received fraudulent applications.
Notify affected credit card companies and banks, etc. and obtain account numbers and other pertinent information if possible. Try to get copies of all documents and conversations associated with the account.
Identify fraudulent home addresses and other information on your credit report.
• Phone numbers and web sites of resources including the credit reporting agencies.
• A list of some of the initial steps that occur in your department after the complaint is made. This helps victims to understand something is being done. For instance: "At the end of each shift, all reports are read by triage officers and forwarded to the proper investigating department. It typically takes about seven days before you receive a call from us. If you have not heard from us after that time period, please call __________."
• Recommendations for preparation of initial meeting. Again, the ITRC has fact sheets written for both victims and the people who serve them. Consider adapting ITRC Fact Sheets 106, 110 and 112 to suit the needs of your organization
• At a minimum, provide victims with the recommendation to keep a journal that includes date of discovery of the fraud, all of their contacts thus far in trying to remediate their case, details regarding potential suspects, and a list of all affected accounts. For example:
Date of Discovery: On XXX date, I received a collection phone call from a creditor for an account that I was not aware of and that I did not open or use. For example: There are three credit cards that I have never opened on the Experian report.
American Express account 1234567890123465 $___ total charges to date
Visa account 2345678901234567 $___ total charges to date
Discover account 4567890123456789. $___ total charges to date.
Facts about the imposter
I believe that my identity was stolen from an application for a cell phone because I used my middle initial which I have not used on any other applications in the last 2 years. The thefts started within 2 weeks of my filling out the application and all used that same middle initial.
My sister and I look alike and she has a checkered past. I believe she may have something to do with this, but I have not confronted her.
The Initial Meeting
Realize that your agenda and that of your victim may differ. Consider providing a written agenda for the initial meeting to quickly set guidelines and expectations. Also set a time limit for the meeting based upon the amount of time you will need to gather the pertinent info. As previously stated, victims often are wounded and as such will feel the need to talk at length about the episode. Let them know ahead of time how much time you have devoted to their case, and inform them up front. Let them know it's not because you don't care, but because you also have many other cases that must be investigated, and you must treat all victims with equal respect and importance.
At the conclusion of the intake interview/meeting, inform the victim candidly regarding the potential outcome of the case. Financial crimes investigations take a great deal of time and effort. They do not move quickly. Ensure the victim is informed of this fact. Additionally, even with exceptional investigative efforts the fact is most of these cases will not result in an arrest or prosecution. The victim needs to understand this as well. If you do not feel the chances are good that the case will end in an arrest, inform the victim so they can begin resetting their priorities (clearing his/her name and credit history). The truth may be difficult for them at first, but better to set the truthful and realistic expectations immediately, rather than have to disappoint them later. Have this difficult conversation at the conclusion of the initial meeting.
Provide the victims with additional resources such as your local Victim/Witness assistance program in your jurisdiction and/or the Identity Theft Resource Center.
Lastly, let the victim know when they can obtain a hard copy of the police report. This report is critical for them to begin the process of remediating their case. Many of the protections under federal and state law do not become affective until the victim has the police report in hand.
The Victim as a “Limited Partner”
This is your case. Clearly, you must be in charge of the investigation. However, almost every victim has an overwhelming need to be actively involved. It is their reputation. It is their credit at risk.
Teach your victims how to work with you effectively. Brief them on what they may and may not do. Set some rules for them to follow and task them with assignments that could provide useful information to you. For example, FCRA's Section 609e allows them to request a copy of transaction records and the application for fraudulent accounts set up in a victim's name and Social Security Number. They can also designate a copy be sent to you, potentially saving you time and effort.
Some Final Thoughts
There is no easy answer to identity theft. The law enforcement community and advocacy organizations such as the ITRC must work in tandem in order to achieve the most effective results. If you would like to be a part of this dialogue please contact the ITRC directly as we have many resources within the law enforcement community that have developed robust identity theft programs and processes and are willing to share this information with fellow officers.
RESOURCES YOU MAY LIST ON YOUR GUIDES TO VICTIMS: