ITRC Fact Sheet 115 - When You Personally Know the Identity Thief
What are your options when you know the imposter? 

This guide covers the following topics:

Case Examples:

Case 1: “My adult daughter used my information without my knowledge to open several credit cards and buy a car.  She hasn’t paid on any of these accounts and now the bank and credit card companies want me to pay.  What do I do? I don’t want to see her go to jail.”

Case 2: “My father has a gambling problem.  He opened several checking accounts in both my name and my brother’s name.  Then he wrote bad checks for his debt.  He’s 68 years old and my family thinks we should just pay off the debt.  I know that if we do, he’ll just do it again.  What do you advise?”

Case 3:  “My ex-husband is using my 8-year old son’s SSN to open credit cards.  He even got a driver’s license using his information.  How do I stop him?”

Case 4:  “My friend apparently went through my papers one day and found my SSN.  She has several credit cards that she applied for in both of our names.  I found out when I applied for a card and it was denied.   She says she will pay off the cards but can only afford $20 a month.   The credit card companies want all of it now.  I can’t afford to pay these off.  It is more than $10,000.  What do I do?  She won’t sign a letter saying these are really her cards because she is afraid they will arrest her.”

Identity theft is a complex crime at best.  When the imposter is someone known to you, the impact of the crime magnifies dramatically:

You essentially have three choices of action:

  • Proceed as if this was a regular case of id theft.
  • Make a police report (this is not the same as pressing charges against the person)
  • Cooperate with law enforcement’s investigation
  • Work with the creditors to see if a resolution can be made without police involvement
  • Pay the debt and live with the consequences

This guide will address some of these choices and possible solutions.

The Reality of the Situation

Let’s look at this situation from various points of view.

The law:  If you do not report this case, there will be no police report, and no investigation.   If you want the protection of the law as a victim of identity theft (and all the benefits you gain as a recognized identity theft victim), you must make a report.  To get the protection of federal and conspirator unless you knew about the fraud and did nothing to stop it, or participated in the fraud yourself.   If you refuse to make a report, you may risk appearing suspect when you try to clear the fraud activity (civil or criminal).

Credit card companies and financial institutions:  The credit card companies and financial institutions want their money back.  That is a reasonable expectation.  It is your task to convince them that another person has taken over your accounts and/or opened new accounts in your name – all without your permission or knowledge.  You will have to prove that you have not benefited financially from these accounts.  Unfortunately, without a police report, your job will be much tougher.  Credit card companies do not take victims seriously without a police report.

The victim: When you personally know the individual who has used your information, the emotional impact of identity theft dramatically increases -- the sense of violation and betrayal, embarrassment for yourself and the imposter, the abuse of trust, even your feeling of how you evaluate others.

You may feel that this decision is not cut and dry.  That feeling is one that many family identity theft victims experience as they begin to explore their options.  This decision has many ramifications, for you and for those who know both you and the imposter.  And those who know both of you may put pressure on you to assume the responsibility for the crime to protect the criminal. 

One victim put it this way:

“The person who stole my identity was a friend.  When I first found out, I was angry at what she did to me, apparently without concern for my feelings or financial security.  I reported the situation to the police and then spent the next few weeks worrying about her safety.  Would she be arrested?  Would she be angry with me?  She did get arrested and pled guilty.

The day they took her from the courtroom in shackles was a very difficult day for me.  I had a lot of mixed feelings.  I knew she would not be able to hurt me for a while, that she would pay for her crime.  People told me I should be celebrating.  But how do you celebrate when you get to walk in the sunlight and the person you thought was a friend is behind bars, on a cot, alone and unable to feel the breeze on her face?

It took me a while to stop identifying with her.  I also had to make peace with myself.  I was not the cause of the crime.  I was simply a way for her to get money.  By going to the police, I had actually given her a gift – a chance to change her ways and get her life together.  I finally realized this crime was not about me.  It was about her and her problems.  I was just an innocent bystander.  She was not capable of understanding friendship.”

What If You Suspect the Imposter Is Someone You Know?

Normally, the steps you would take are on ITRC Fact Sheet FS 100 – Financial Identity Theft: the Beginning Steps and ITRC Fact Sheet FS 100A – More Complex Cases.  To review:

  • The first step is to order copies of your credit reports from Experian, TransUnion and Equifax.  These reports are free if you believe you are a victim of financial crime or have been refused credit or a job.  Place a fraud alert on each of them. 
  • File a police report, using the information from your credit reports as evidence.
  • Call all the companies or collection agencies listing an account that you have not personally opened or that show a pending application.  Request they send you a copy of the application and transaction records.  Remember, you must send a police report with this request. 
  • Remember, you are not liable for this debt, and the company is taking advantage of the fact that you’re a family member if they insist that you pay.
  • Keep trying to get the company to remove the debt.
  • If you have a police report listing all the fraud accounts, the credit bureaus must block the fraudulent accounts from your credit reports within 30 days or provide you with a written response regarding why they will not.  

Frequently Asked Questions:

What if I file a police report?   Won’t everyone hate me?

The person who used your information showed a lack of concern for your safety and financial good health.  The old saying, “I didn’t think it would really hurt you; the credit card companies just write off the loss,” cannot be allowed as an excuse.  The cost of loss is passed on to all of us in higher prices and taxes.  If you have approached that person and told them you have a problem they caused AND they don’t respond with an offer to make it completely right immediately, they’ve told you their answer.  They don’t care about you and how this affects your life.  Why would you continue to protect someone who is putting you at risk?

By contacting the authorities and cooperating fully, you have not caused this person to be arrested.  They caused this by their own actions.  In your heart, you must understand you did the right thing, sometimes the most difficult action you will ever take.  Be careful if you think this person may become violent.  Do not confront him/her.   Let the police handle the situation and make sure you take the necessary steps to protect yourself. 

My family wants me to forgive the imposter and they will help me pay off the bills slowly together.   What are the consequences of this?

If the imposter and credit issuer will cooperate, have the account moved to the imposter’s SSN.   Have the family work out an agreement in writing, signed by all parties, to put the debt in the imposter’s name to pay it off.
 
UNDERSTAND, if you pay the debt in your name, any negative information on your credit report will remain on your report for seven (7) years.  You have assumed responsibility for the debt, and any negative credit worthiness consequences. 

The imposter either will not admit guilt will admit guild but not sign any forms. I have conclusive proof of the crime.   How should I proceed?

Proceed as in Question One or Three – the choice is yours.   Either file a police report, or pay the bill.

The creditor won’t believe either the thief or me?  Now what?

Assuming you have provided proof, have filed a police report and there is a notarized admission of guilt by the imposter, you need to speak with a higher level person that you are currently dealing with.  Ask for the legal department if all else fails.  See ITRC’s Fact Sheet FS 116 on dealing with collection agencies. 

The perpetrator is my ex-spouse or soon to be ex-spouse.  What is the best way to proceed?

If the person has opened up credit cards in your name, without your authorization, we recommend that you have your divorce attorney address this as part of the divorce proceedings or settlement.  If the divorce is final, you may choose to deal with this, as in Question One above, or go back to your divorce attorney for additional court assistance.    Send a copy of the divorce decree with a cover letter to the creditors and let them go after your ex-spouse.  For more information you can read our ITRC Fact Sheet FS 115A - What if my spouse is stealing my identity?

Does mediation help?

Mediation is a form of civil action.  This is an option if you don’t want to take criminal legal action.  The mediator will attempt to create a structured solution and legally binding agreement as to the circumstances between the imposter, the creditors or collection agencies and you.  However, the downside is that the collection notice or bill still remains on your credit report unless the creditor will transfer the account to the imposter’s Social Security Number (see question 3 above).  If the party refuses to go to mediation, you have to decide – are you going to pay the bill, take them to small claims court and sue them for the amount owed or report them to the police?

Do I need legal assistance?

If your impostor has committed crimes in your name, you should definitely contact a criminal defense attorney and have him/her help you to clear your name from the FBI and state criminal records databases.  See the ITRC Fact Sheet FS 110 - Criminal Identity Theft.  If your family member committed financial fraud, and the creditors will not remove the fraud after you have written letters, you may need to hire a consumer law attorney.  For referrals, contact the National Association of Consumer Advocates, your local or state bar association or other resources in The Identity Theft Survival Kit available at www.idtheft.org. It provides additional attorney-written letters on diskette dealing with this situation.

Whatever you decide to do, know the Identity Theft Resource Center is here to help you through this maze.  Please call or email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you want additional help.

 

This fact sheet should not be used in lieu of legal advice. Any requests to reproduce this material, other than by individual victims for their own use, should be directed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

ITRC Fact Sheet 114
The Identity Theft Evidence Trail
What Is Available and How Might It Help Victims and Law Enforcement

This guide includes:

Most victims agree – the burden of proving their innocence typically rests solidly on their shoulders. Many law enforcement agencies are receiving more budget money for financial crimes these days, allowing them to upgrade training and add staff, but they continue to struggle to keep up with their caseload.

In June 2004, the Cantwell/Enzi amendment of a federal bill called FACTA finally permitted ALL identity theft victims access to the credit applications and the transaction records in accounts opened fraudulently in their names. The reality is that once an account has been identified as fraudulent, the credit issuer must provide application and transaction information to you and to the designated police, as long as you send a police report with your request. That law is FCRA section 609(e).

Now that victims and their designated law enforcement agencies are being permitted access to documentation about their cases, such as photocopies of application forms, it is important to know what evidence is available and how it might help your case.

With this fact sheet, the ITRC is not encouraging any victim to take the law into his/her own hands. The primary investigator in a crime is, and needs to remain, law enforcement. Well-meaning victims can taint evidence, undo the work of weeks or months of an investigation, and undermine a case so much that the imposter, if caught, might be allowed to go free.

In our work with victims, we have found that many of us are unaware of what information is collected by credit card companies, utility companies, and merchants that can help law enforcement prove a case of identity theft. Again, we remind victims to coordinate their efforts with the investigator assigned to their case by law enforcement. Photocopies of all documents a victim is able to obtain should be turned over to his/her investigator immediately.


WHAT EVIDENCE IS OUT THERE?

Financial Identity Theft Cases

  • Application forms or application records
  • Signature cards – for any checking or bank account.
  • Credit history records, found on your credit report.
  • Transaction records – the individual purchase slips for any goods bought on a credit or debit card.
  • Billing statements
  • Records of calls made from a specific telephone number – part of the billing statement for a cell phone or telephone utility account.
  • Shipping records
  • Videotapes – often part of a security system monitoring cash registers. Some tapes are only kept 2-4 weeks and then reused.
  • Bankruptcy records

Criminal Identity Theft Cases

  • Department of Motor Vehicles records
  • Arrest records and outstanding warrants, criminal database searches
  • Passport records

Identity Assumption - “Cloning” - Cases (where the imposter uses your information to create a new life for himself/herself)

  • Social Security benefit records
  • Federal IRS tax records, state tax records
  • Employment records
  • Employee photos
  • Department of Motor Vehicles records
  • Credit history information (see financial identity theft, above)
  • Credit card and bank account records
  • Bankruptcy records
  • Mortgage and property records
  • Fictitious business name applications and records
  • Business licenses
  • Passport records
  • Medical and health insurance records
  • Personal records - these include but are not limited to: photos of parties that establish dates, doctor's reports as to your health condition (or lack thereof), vacation receipts for alibis, passport/visa stamps, etc.
  • School photographs
  • Family photographs or videos

HOW THIS INFORMATION FITS INTO AN INVESTIGATION

The above documentation can provide the following information that the victim and law enforcement can use to prove a case:

  • These records can help the victim to identify the imposter, especially if the suspect is someone personally known to the victim.
  • These records can provide proof that the signature on the form is not that of the victim.
  • Photo records can prove the true identity of the imposter and show conclusively that it is not the victim.
  • Records can shows trends valuable to police and to victims.
  • Records can provide names and addresses where merchandise was shipped. Keep in mind that this does NOT prove the person who received the merchandise is involved. He/she might be an innocent bystander whose address is used because they are at work during delivery times.
  • They can pinpoint the possible location of the imposter, for example, through a business license or traffic tickets.
  • Phone records or transactions could point to potential witnesses to the crime.
  • Records can establish the location of transactions and the number of imposters. For example, if the information is used in several locations at the same time, this may indicate several imposters are involved.
  • Such records can establish the method of theft.
  • The records might point to information that establishes how the original information was obtained. Examples include a middle initial that was used only on a cell phone application, a legal name only used for payroll purposes, etc.
  • Multiple fraudulent accounts might help to convince a bank or credit card company that this is a genuine act of identity theft and not just a customer finding a way to not pay a bill.
  • Finally, since many financial institutions and credit card companies require subpoenas prior to the release of information to law enforcement, such records could help investigators to specify exactly which documents are needed for court evidence in their warrants.

 

If you have any problems getting information, speak only with fraud investigators or supervisors who are the decision makers who can best help you.

 

This fact sheet should not be used in lieu of legal advice. Any requests to reproduce this material, other than by individual victims for their own use, should be directed toThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

 

ITRC Fact Sheet 113
Changing a Social Security Number

The purpose of this fact sheet is to help you make an informed decision on whether you should you get a new Social Security Number (SSN) or if getting a new SSN will create more problems than you have right now.
 
Please note that the ITRC does not normally recommend that you change your Social Security Number. If there is no other option but to change your Social Security Number, contact the ITRC before you do so.

This guide includes:

When your identity is stolen, an immediate response is to get new credit cards, close bank accounts and completely separate yourself from your current identifying information. In some cases, those steps are warranted. For instance, if the perpetrator has already tried to take money out of your checking account, you should change your checking account number. If the criminal has applied for a duplicate driver’s license under your name, you should ask your state Department of Motor Vehicles for a new number.

Changing numbers in the above situations is fairly easy. However, since many identity theft cases involve the Social Security Number, some victims express a desire to apply for a new number. While it might seem to be a logical step, getting a new Social Security Number is fraught with consequences that are not always readily apparent.

RELEVANT FACTS:

  • The vulnerability of the newly issued SSN is not significantly different from the compromised number, unless the Social Security Number holder scrupulously protects it.
  • Your original SSN will remain assigned to you and linked through Social Security Administration (SSA) computer systems to the new number. SSA does not void, delete or cancel SSNs.
  • When SSA assigns you a new SSN because of significant misuse and disadvantage of your SSN, a special indicator will be placed on your prior SSN record.  The new SSN will be cross-referenced to the old number for tracking purposes for SSA and IRS governmental purposes only.
  • Ask for a letter from the SSA explaining that they have issued you a new SSN. This letter needs to state you will no longer be using the old number and instructs you to begin using the new number. This is a critically important document when you are changing other accounts to the new SSN.
  • When SSA determines that the same SSN was accidentally assigned to two different people, and consequently assigns a new number to one of these individuals, the numbers are not cross-referenced.
  • Keep in mind that a new number probably will not solve all your problems. This is because other governmental agencies (such as the Internal Revenue Service and state motor vehicle agencies) and private businesses (such as banks and credit reporting companies) likely will have records under your old number. Also, because credit reporting companies use the number, along with other personal information, to identify your credit record, using a new number will not guarantee you a fresh start. This is especially true if your other personal information, such as your name and address, remains the same.  The following are examples of some, but not all, such agencies/organizations: Internal Revenue Service (IRS); Banks; Departments of Motor Vehicles; Insurance companies, especially health insurance companies; schools, universities and colleges; credit bureaus; other Federal and State agencies; and the military.
  • Medicare and Medicaid Credit bureaus use the SSN in conjunction with other information (for example, the individual's name, year of birth, address(es), and spouse's name) to identify a record.  When the individual uses a new SSN, he/she is not guaranteed a fresh start, particularly if the other identifiers remain the same.  NOTE: A credit bureau may combine the credit records from the old SSN with those from the new SSN.
  • In the case of identity theft, a new SSN may actually create new problems.  The absence of any credit history under the new SSN may make it more difficult for an individual to get credit, continue college, rent an apartment, buy a big-ticket item, open a bank account, get health insurance or get a job.

THE REGULATIONS:  UNDER WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES MAY I APPLY FOR A NEW SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER?

Although SSA does not routinely assign new numbers, they will do so when a victim requests a new SSN and provides evidence that he/she has tried to resolve the problems brought on by identity theft but continues to be disadvantaged by the SSN misuse.  Disadvantaged by misuse of the SSN means that the misuse has caused you financial or personal hardship within the past year.  

The following information comes directly from the SSA.  It is provided to give you an idea of the strict standards you must meet for consideration as a candidate for a new SSN. Meeting the standards below is no guarantee that the SSA will assign you a new SSN. Please keep in mind that even if you are eligible for a new SSN, it may not be the best choice for you.

Examples of disadvantage by misuse of the SSN:

  • Past SSN misuse causes a recent application for a home mortgage to be denied.
  • The IRS questions a tax return because of unreported earnings, a result of someone using another individual's SSN to work.
  • An individual's SSN was misused to obtain credit several years ago, but documented attempts to correct his/her credit record have been unsuccessful.
  • Past SSN misuse causes an individual to be arrested whenever he/she is stopped for a traffic violation.

Examples that are not disadvantage by misuse of the SSN:

  • An individual's SSN was misused to obtain credit 2 years ago.  The credit bureau corrected the credit report and/or added a cautionary statement to contact the victim first.  The victim’s SSN has not been used subsequently, nor has the victim been denied credit.
  • An individual who has been a victim of identity theft in the past, and has had fraud alerts placed on his/her credit record, has to wait while a store employee verifies his/her credit card with a bank before processing the transaction.
  • A credit card holder, who has had identity theft problems in the past and opened new credit, receives a call from the credit company to verify that he/she charged a large purchase recently.

If you decide to apply for a new number please read through the Social Security Administration’s Identity Theft and Your Social Security Number.

  • Complete an Application For A Social Security Card (Form SS-5); and
  • Show documents proving U.S. citizenship (or immigration status and work eligibility) and Identity.
  • Show evidence to support your need for a new SSN

Take your completed application and documents to your local Social Security office. All documents must be either originals or copies certified by the issuing agency. They cannot accept photocopies or notarized copies of documents.


Case histories and feedback from actual victims who have gotten a new SSN. Would they do it again?  Why or why not?

All case histories have been written by actual victims who received new SSNs.  Their real names have been changed to preserve their privacy, except in Case #3 where permission was given to use their real name.

Case 1: Argument against a new SSN
With nearly $80,000 of bad debts, more than 30 delinquent accounts and a court judgment against my wife due to identity fraud, our attorney suggested we try to get new SSNs.  After showing all the data we had (credit reports, false applications, affidavits from employers and friends, proof of actual address against the address where the credit report claimed it occurred) we were granted new SSNs.

To be honest this action has brought almost no benefits.  In fact, it caused a lot of problems.  It was easier to get a mortgage with bad credit (albeit at 10.5% interest) rather than a creditless SSN.  At work the change in my SSN affected my ability to do payroll direct deposit, cancelled my telephone card, changed my medical policy and my 401K allocation.

At home it meant I could not get cheaper car insurance, even though I have no tickets or accidents.  It also meant banks refused to deal with me and one opened up fraud investigations on me as they could not get a credit record for me (they also refused to return my deposit that opened the account).  One of the credit bureaus cross-referenced the old and new SSNs (they refuse to say how they did this) and so all the old bad credit moved to the new numbers.  In the meantime most of the bad credit has been removed from the old SSNs, mostly due to constant calling of the companies’ fraud departments.

In retrospect it would have been better not to get new SSNs.  It is always possible to prove the bad credit isn’t yours and most companies were very sympathetic to the phone calls that you have to make each day/week/month. It is not that easy to prove you are a good credit risk if you have no credit -- no matter how much you call.

Case 2: Debbie was young and had not yet built up a credit history so changing the SSN worked well for her. While I was in college, someone applied for and used a fraudulent duplicate California Driver’s license under my name.  By the time I found out, she had been using it for almost a year and there had been a warrant for “my” arrest for nearly 6 months.  Had I been pulled over for any reason in that time, I would have been taken to jail on the spot.  A DMV search proved that the “new photo” on my record was of a person of a distinctly different ethnic descent.  Additionally, the investigators found that mine was not the first identity stolen by this same woman.

Under the circumstances, they issued a new driver’s license (after questioning me for a while to make sure I hadn’t allowed her to use it.) It wasn’t until about 6 months later when my roommate moved out and I tried to change the utilities into my name that I found out she had been using my SSN as well.  A look at my credit reports showed that she had set up at least 3 telephone numbers in the Northern California region, to which collect calls were made from a women’s prison.   The bills totaled over two thousand dollars over a two-month period.  Additionally, she had attempted to get a bank loan and a number of credit cards.  Fortunately for me, at the time I had no work history and no credit cards of my own, and thief was unable to get approved for any credit or loans.  By the time I got everything cleared up, I was 22 years old, and as I mentioned earlier, I had no work history or credit history at the time.   I feel that this was a definite advantage in being able to get rid of the old SSN, because I was not losing anything personal to me; I had not yet begun to build my credit.  The whole ordeal lasted about two years, and I don’t know to this day how she got my information.

Case 3: A clerical error mixed Scott’s Social Security Number with that of an accused murderer.

Changing my SSN based on poor advice was absolutely the worst thing that I could have done.  I thought it would distance myself and my family from an accused murderer that had several DUI arrests.  This person became associated with my SSN because of an entry error (supposedly) that linked me to that man. It was then distributed through the police network and the credit reporting agencies.

No matter where the problem came from, I was now this man's alias and my jobs (potential and existing) were ruined.  This cascaded into a bad line of credit due to my inability to obtain regular employment and eventually my marriage failed.  When I discovered the problem, it was too late to repair the damage quickly enough and I was advised (quite poorly might I add) that I should change my SSN. At the time, I felt lucky and thought that my life would now turn around.  I was completely wrong.   My credit records now appeared to have a fraudulent SSN and the alert could only be seen by the creditors and not myself.  Now I have problems making the transition between the numbers and have a great deal of trouble with my credit.  Having changed my SSN now requires continual explanations and makes everyone suspicious of me.  Furthermore I will never know until I retire if all of my benefits will transfer.   My entire future is an unknown.....my life is in shambles.   I hope and pray that I can help others in my situation so that they do not have to lose everything like I did.   Especially their families.  My transcripts can be looked up on MSNBC's web site under a search of Scott Lewis or Identity theft (permission given to ITRC to use victim’s name).

 
THE POSITION OF THE IDENTITY THEFT RESOURCE CENTER:

In most circumstances, ITRC does not recommend obtaining a new SSN.  The following are some of the exceptions to this rule.  Obviously, each case must be evaluated by its own merits.

  • You are an individual just starting out in life. You have not yet established a credit history and will not lose college or financial records.
  • Your case is life-threatening and it has been strongly recommended by the FBI, Secret Service or another law enforcement or criminal justice agency to take this step. If this is the case, please ask them to assist you in establishing a “false” personal history.
  • If a new SSN is requested because of harassment/abuse, the decision to assign a new SSN will be made by a SSA regional office.
  • A credit freeze will not resolve the problem.

ADVICE IF YOU DECIDE TO PROCEED:

Please refer to ITRC Solution SN 11 – Social Security Number Change Check List.

You must apply in person at your local Social Security Administration office.  They will help you complete a statement explaining why you need a new number and the application for a new number.

RESOURCES:

  • Social Security Administration General Information:
    1-800-772-1213; TTY number 1-800-325-0778; www.ssa.gov
  • Social Security Administration Fraud Hotline:
    1-800-269-0271 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to report any SSN fraud
  • Social Security Administration Publications: www.ssa.gov                      
    • No. 05-10064, "When Someone Misuses Your Number"
    • No. 05-10002 "Social Security: Your Number and Card."

 

This fact sheet should not be used in lieu of legal advice. Any requests to reproduce this material, other than by individual victims for their own use, should be directed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

ITRC Fact Sheet 112
Enhancing Identity Theft Victim and Investigator Communications

The goal of the following information is to enhance your working relationship with law enforcement and credit investigators. It includes:

One of the most common complaints we receive from identity theft victims is that they feel that law enforcement doesn’t care. Many also complain that fraud investigators at banks and credit card companies don’t appear to have the victim’s best interest at heart. They may be right. But this also may be partially due to poor communication. We all adjust our communication styles depending on the environment. At work we talk one way, and at home we could cover the same topic in a variety of different ways. The same is true in crime investigations.

Our victim advisors have often listened to a victim talk about his or her case for 15 or 20 minutes -- without being told the pertinent facts or having the victim clearly identify what they need from us. (That’s one of the reasons ITRC is here, to provide the emotional outlet you might need.)

This fact sheet will help you state your case in a way that is most useful to the police and to fraud investigators at financial institutions. The tips in this sheet will help you to focus on the pertinent facts and see your case the way they do.

WHY SHOULD I HAVE TO DO MOST OF THE ORIGINAL WORK?

Fraud crimes are complicated. As one police detective said, the person who knows the facts and details of this case best is YOU. The ability to solve these crimes is usually contained in the details. When one person tells another person a story, especially a complicated story, the person hearing the details usually gets a rough sketch of the situation. This is often what happens when a police officer takes a fraud report from a victim who may not understand which points are the most important to the case and which points really can be left for another time, or are just not relevant. After all, most of us are not professional investigators. The result is that a detective may determine that the case is not workable, when in fact it may be. By writing down the details, you will also outline and organize the case in your mind so that you can easily tell the story quickly.

FIRST STEPS: PRIOR TO TALKING WITH THE INVESTIGATOR

1. Prior to talking with an investigator, start a journal so that you can record details as they occur (refer to ITRC Fact Sheet FS 106 – Organizing your Identity Theft Case).

2. Rough Draft: Outline the story, in chronological order, exactly the way that you discovered it. Put down anything you think is important. Don’t censor your thoughts. You’ll edit it later. There are certain things that are important to include:

  • How you first discovered the fraud/theft – who told you and under what circumstances.
  • Any clues you may have as to the identity of the imposter – not guesses, but hard facts.
  • Locations where fraudulent applications were signed or submitted (presented in your name). Get exact addresses whenever possible.
  • Locations (including department of store) where the fraudulent activity occurred and/or purchases were made. Get exact addresses if possible.
  • Locations (exact addresses) where goods, services, utilities were delivered to in your name.
  • Locations listed as home addresses on those applications.
  • Telephone numbers listed on all applications and orders.
  • Names used either as primary or secondary account holders.
  • The entire account number of any accounts that are referred to.
  • The full name, address, phone number and date of birth (if you have it) of any suspect referred to in your case.
  • The names of any companies, investigators or customer service representatives, phone numbers, emails and fax numbers of anyone you have contacted about potential fraud. Include what dates and time you spoke to them and a brief summary of the conversation. You should ask each of these people for a letter to include in your file.
  • Photocopies of any letters, account statements, or correspondence received by you regarding this case.
  • Remember that not all of this information will be available or easy to get. However, try to obtain as much relevant information as you can.

Some of the information on this list can only be obtained after you present a copy of the police report to the merchant or credit provider. Get together what you can for the initial report then supply the additional information as you receive it.

3. Working draft: Now write a concise narrative, removing any emotional responses (for example, “He was very rude to me on the phone”). This draft will lengthen as you uncover more information.

4. Include your identifying information:

  • First, middle, and last name
  • Any prior names you had that may be involved in the crime
  • Home and business address
  • Home, business, cell phone, and pager numbers

Be ready to provide, but do not record on this document, the following three items:

  • Date of birth (DOB)
  • Driver’s license number
  • Social Security number

MAKING YOUR REPORT

Law enforcement officers carry large caseloads. They need to get the information as quickly and as accurately as possible. It is important that we spend their time wisely. After all, the point is for them to catch the bad guys.

1. Listen and Participate

  • Give the investigator a paper copy of the narrative you have prepared. This may save everyone some time and avoid forgotten details. Find a secure way to send a copy to them if you only talk by phone, such as a fax (with send receipt), or U.S. Mail certified, return receipt requested.
  • Listen to the questions asked and direct your answers to those questions. Usually investigators have a specific form that they need to fill out. It is designed to cover all the information, without any details falling between the cracks.
  • If there is an area you feel has been left out once the preliminary form has been completed, now is the time to add the details you feel are relevant.
  • Provide copies of any documentation you have. Let the investigator know of any evidence you think might be available.

2. Question and Communicate

  • Write down any questions that you want to remember to ask your investigator prior to his/her arrival or phone call. Take notes. The more you know about this process, the better prepared you will be.
  • What are their procedures from this point forward?
  • What are their priorities on the case?
  • Will you always have the same investigator on the case? (You want to know who will be your primary contact.)
  • What should you do if you find out more information that may help them, or what to do if you get another collection notice? Should you call, email or mail it to them?
  • How soon until you can get a copy of the police report (or a letter of investigation from a credit card company)? What are the procedures for getting it?
  • When will you hear from them next?
  • What can I (the victim) be doing in the meantime? Is there something I can do to move things along faster?
  • Is there any action I (the victim) might take that would harm the case?
  • What chance does the law enforcement officer think they have in catching this person? (Although difficult to accept, probably your best course of action is to focus on clearing your name rather than getting an arrest.)
  • Can they provide any written documentation you can use to show you are not the imposter (for instance, a letter of clearance)?

BEHIND THE SCENES 

The handling of your report and case will depend on the available resources of the agency that takes the report. If law enforcement feels that the case is unworkable, focus on clearing your name.

  • The first thing that will happen is that your case will be referred to a fraud investigator. Depending on caseload size, this might take several days.
  • You will be called and told who will be covering your case. You may be interviewed by phone or asked to come in. If this is not possible due to work or distance, tell them so and try to arrange for an alternate way to gather information.
  • The detective will triage your case by reading the initial report, trying to determine the potential of moving forward with the case. Remember: the better you communicate the crime, the better the opportunity for action.
  • As time permits, the detective will start to gather evidence if they think there is a chance that they can make a case and find the imposter.
  • Your case will be one of many cases. Detectives rarely work on one case at a time. Many times your case will stall while they wait for a credit card company to send them the official copy of a fraudulent application, or while they wait for someone from the bank to return a call. Some banks and credit card companies take several weeks and several reminder calls before sending out requested information.
  • If the detective is required to get a court order to get information, that will take additional time.
  • Your case might also get preempted if a detective is given a new case where the criminal has just been arrested. Many states have laws regarding a “48-hour rule.” This means that the officer has just one day to put together a case to present to the prosecutor on a suspect who has been arrested so the suspect can be arraigned on the charges within the second court day of his arrest. If not, the suspect must be released and cannot be re-arrested for the exact same incident at a later date. So those types of cases always have priority.
  • Detectives rarely close an open case. It may seem like nothing is happening but they do remain aware of your case. Sometimes cases may sit months with no activity and suddenly the imposter does something foolish and evidence is found to tie them to the case.

EVIDENCE ISSUES

What might seem to you to be clear-cut evidence might not help your case due to various evidence laws. Law enforcement must clearly prove a chain of evidence that connects the crime to the imposter. For a more detailed look at “The Evidence Trail,” please read ITRC Fact Sheet FS 114.

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP YOUR INVESTIGATOR:

This is the investigator’s case. They must be in charge of the investigation, or you could taint the case. However, you can ask how you might help and work with them. Remember, however, that your theft is not their only case. Please respect their time and be brief in your phone calls. Get right to the point. Identity theft cases are slow and may take months to complete.

  • Contact the detective when you have new evidence, but no more than once a week during the active period of the case.
  • Contact your detective once every 3 - 4 weeks even if you don’t have evidence to share. Do not telephone them more frequently than this. Ask about the status of the case.
  • Don’t use law enforcement or investigators as a therapist or a person to dump emotional frustration on.
  • Ask what you can do to help move the case forward. Is there anything they are waiting for? Maybe a call to your fraud contact at the bank or credit card company might help.

SOME FINAL THOUGHTS

As much as we would like them to, most identity theft cases do not end in arrest. Usually, this is not the fault of law enforcement; they are overworked and understaffed. Leads may not pan out, and evidence we thought might be perfect may not legally prove a case. We hope that by following the advice we have provided, your case will end in an arrest and conviction. Should it not, however, know you did everything humanly possible. And please note that many detectives leave unsolved cases on their desk hoping that sometime, somehow, a new piece of evidence will finally prove to be the imposter’s undoing.

 

This fact sheet should not be used in lieu of legal advice. Any requests to reproduce this material, other than by individual victims for their own use, should be directed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

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