This guide covers:
Most identity theft cases do not result in the perpetrator being arrested and convicted. In many ways, these cases are in uncharted territory. Oftentimes, there is no one to turn to, no one to ask about procedures or to help guide you through the legal maze. It is important to communicate with the district attorney assigned to your case.
Along with the district attorney, you need to put a face to this crime, to show it in living color. It is your responsibility to educate the judge about your needs and how this crime affected your life, from the time of discovery to that day in court.
Most of these requests (listed below) will be made during the Sentencing Phase of your case. Please note: a judge may or may not listen. The judge has the final word. However, if you don’t try, you’ll never know if the judge agrees with you.
You might also refer to our ITRC Fact Sheet FS 106 - Organizing Your Identity Theft Case.
Many District Attorney Offices have a victim assistance program. Ask to speak to a victim assistance counselor to help you prepare yourself for the various stages of the prosecution, hearings, requests for restitution, probation interviews, hearings, etc. Each court and jurisdiction is different and often the district attorney doesn’t have time to help you. You can also read through the basic process in ITRC Fact Sheet FS 109 - The Court Experience.
Make sure that you get all the pamphlets and procedures in writing so that you understand what is expected of you as a victim and witness. Keep a very detailed file of the information since this process may go on for many months.
Restitution is paid to the victim(s) when the court orders the defendant to pay a certain amount of money to his or her victims to reimburse them for their losses. While some judges are reluctant to order restitution, they are required to listen to your request and will usually consider reasonable and unavoidable costs.
We suggest that you write a letter asking for restitution. You may use ITRC Fact Sheet FS 111 - Victim Impact Statements.
In all cases, you must keep receipts of legitimate costs. You should also keep a detailed log of all time spent on clearing your name (time spent, what you were working on, who you called, etc.). You should also try to estimate projected future costs, anticipating reasonable expenses you will incur in clearing your case.
We also recommend that you look at our ITRC Fact Sheet FS 109 - The Court Experience and ITRC Fact Sheet FS 111 - Victim Impact Statements to see examples of how to add requests to your statement. Do not present a long laundry list to the judge. Be selective in what you request and be brief in your presentation. Remember, be respectful of the judge’s time and be courteous.
The judge has the discretion to determine which, if any, items will be considered for restitution. However here are some suggested items for inclusion:
For a period of time after the initial victimization, you are entitled to get your credit reports without cost to clean up the credit mess and monitor the new inquiries. That varies depending on state laws and credit reporting agency policies. After that time, be sure to continue to keep an eye on your reports, checking them once every few months.
Identity theft criminals tend to be repeat offenders. Victims often say that while their perpetrators got off with 3 years of probation, they are servicing a life sentence. It is true that victims live with the fact that the imposter may reuse the information at any time. They might also sell it repeatedly for others to use.
So, the question arises, how do you monitor your credit reports as effectively as possible? Some people prefer to subscribe to a Credit Monitoring Service. There are several currently in the United States. We recommend the ANNUAL CREDIT REPORT PROGRAM - a free program provided by federal law. If you call 877-322-8228, you can order one credit report from each of the three bureaus every 12 months. By staggering your requests you can keep an eye on your credit for FREE.
In many states, victims may freeze their credit reports to prevent unwanted credit issuers from viewing them. For more information on this process, please see our ITRC Fact Sheet FS 124 - Credit Freeze and Fraud Alerts. Also, please check our State Resources to see if your state has laws regarding fraud and credit freezes.
These new services go beyond traditional credit monitoring by including additional areas where fraudulent activity may be indicated. In some cases, these may be more proactive in alerting you to fraudulent activity in real time. Each service is slightly different. Additional areas may include:
Some companies calculate identity risk by looking for any suspicious or unusual relationships among billions of basic identity elements. Others include credit monitoring and some of the additional items mentioned above. Look for a service that notifies you quickly of any developing problem.
If the imposter has used your name as an alias while committing a crime or if you have difficulties proving you are you -- one of the tools you can request from the courts is a “Letter of Clearance”. It is known by various names so ask the district attorney or sheriff in your area for the precise title. Essentially, this is an official document from the court establishing your that you were a victim of identity theft.
You will need to carry this form with you for years to come so make numerous copies of it. We also suggest you give a copy of it to a family member or close friend in the event you misplace the copy you carry on your person and you need it in an emergency. This document will save you countless embarrassing moments and potential visits to the local jail.
If you are a victim of this type of “criminal identity theft,” please read ITRC Fact Sheet FS 110.
This guide covers the following topics:
Over the years, the ITRC has developed strong, working relationships with law enforcement, governmental agencies and businesses. In doing so, we have drawn upon some well-documented laws of effective communication. They aren’t difficult, and anyone can use them effectively.
Organize your thoughts prior to any conversation. Identity theft cases can be complicated. ITRC Fact Sheet FS 112 - Enhancing Identity Theft Victim and Investigator Communications will help you to be succinct and focused. Write down what points you want to cover and what you want to accomplish.
Anger never works; people stop listening. You want to engage this person and convert him or her into an ally. If you are angry, delay your call until you can redirect your anger into positive, calm and effective communication. Be someone who acknowledges any attempt to help you. A “thank you” goes a long ways toward winning allies.
You - “I have a problem. You are trying to collect money on an account I never opened. How do I remove my name from an account opened fraudulently in my name?”
Them - “We just want to know how soon you plan to pay up.”
You - “I understand that you normally deal with people who haven’t paid their bills. My case is different. This is a case of identity theft. I didn’t open this account. How do I remove my name from this account?”
This guide covers the following:
While a lost or stolen wallet or PDA may simply mean the loss of your cash and credit cards, it may also be the beginning of an identity theft case. Hope for the best while taking steps to reduce your risk of identity theft. The return of the item does not guarantee that cards were not copied, so you need to proceed as if the items were stolen.
This guide will serve as a starting point of what to do and whom to call. If the situation evolves into identity theft, please refer to our other self-help guides or contact our office toll-free at 888-400-5530.
What was in your wallet and/or purse?
The following is a list of items that may be in your wallet or purse that can lead to identity theft or other forms of fraud if stolen.
What other information was on your cell phone, tablet, or laptop?
Steps to take immediately:
1. Police report: Report the crime/loss to your local law enforcement agency. Give them a list of the items it contained (see above). Request a copy of the report as you might need it later. ITRC also recommends getting the business card or name of the officer who took the report, the report number and a phone number to call if you have additional questions.
2. Credit or Fraud Alerts: Contact the three major credit reporting agencies (CRAs) by telephone, listed below. Use the “Report Fraud” numbers for each CRA (refer to ITRC Solution 3). You will reach an automated system that allows you to provide your phone number. We highly recommend you include a home or cell phone number. See ITRC Fact Sheet 100 – Financial Identity Theft – the Beginning Steps and ITRC Fact Sheet 124 for information on placing fraud alerts.
- Equifax (800) 525-6285
- Experian (888) 397-3742
- Trans Union: (800) 680-7289
Ask for a fraud alert and your free report as a potential victim of identity theft. The CRAs are required to provide you with a complimentary credit report when you place a fraud alert. This report gives you the opportunity to check for any pending credit applications and to verify that all the current information is correct. It becomes an accurate baseline for the fraud alert and may alert you to suspicious activity.
In 2 to 3 months you should begin to use the federal annual credit report system, www.annualcreditreport.com (for more information, see ITRC Fact Sheet 125.) If there are problems, please refer to our ITRC Fact Sheet 100 for guidance. If your SSN is being used, you may want to consider a “credit freeze” explained in ITRC Fact Sheet 124.
3. Driver’s License or State ID: If your Driver’s license or vehicle registration was taken, contact the state agency that issues driver’s licenses. Place a stolen/lost card warning on your file. At this time, request a replacement. If you discover that a thief is using your license, you can request a license number change. If your vehicle registration papers are missing, notify your state agency of this as well.
4. Credit Cards and Account Documents: If you are missing credit cards or copies of bills, contact the card issuers that issued the stolen/lost card(s). Request replacement cards with new account numbers. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires credit grantors to furnish copies of any fraudulent transactions for that account. Monitor your mail for collection notices, missing statements or bills. Check bills for evidence of new fraudulent activity and report any problems immediately to credit grantors. If a problem is discovered, please refer to ITRC Fact Sheet 100.
5. Checks and Checking Account Information If you have lost checking account numbers, savings account numbers, checks, ATM cards, or debit cards, contact the bank immediately and close the account. Open a new account with a new number. Add a password on the account. It sometimes helps to go directly to the local branch and speak face-to-face with a bank manager or fraud investigator. Do not waste time explaining your case to a teller. Please refer to ITRC Fact Sheet 126 for additional information on checking account takeover and check fraud.
To report fraudulent use of your checks:
Several of these companies do provide a “consumer report.” Order reports from those that do provide them. They should be free.
Security Alert: ChexSystems and SCAN will let you place a 90-day Security Alert on your consumer report with them.
6. Military ID cards: Notify the personnel support detachment (PSD) and your immediate chain of command up to the commanding officer. Apply for a new ID card. In the event that a dependent’s ID card is involved, notify your immediate supervisor, the PSD, and secure a replacement.
7. Green Card or immigration papers: Contact the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), as well as your country’s embassy.
8. Passports: In the case of a lost or stolen passport, it is important to notify the U.S. Department of State immediately and fill out Form DS-64. In the event the passport was issued by another country, notify the issuing country’s embassy. For more information visit http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/passports/lost-stolen.html
9. Workplace theft: If your wallet or PDA was lost or stolen at work, notify both the HR and Security Departments. You might recommend a notice be posted warning other personnel to take additional security precautions. For example, women should not be storing wallets or purses in unlocked, desk drawers.
10. Stolen Social Security Card
Do this every year at the end of January for everybody whose card was stolen:
If you are requesting the information on a minor child or a dependent adult please read Solution 27 http://www.idtheftcenter.org/Solutions/sn-27.html
Refer to ITRC Fact Sheet 100A for further information on more complex cases.
11: Stolen Smart Phone:
Call your service provider and have them cancel your service and report your phone missing. Treat the loss of your smartphone as you would the loss of a wallet or purse.
12: Birth Certificate
Notify the issuing county recorder’s office of the loss. In the future, do not carry this on your person unless needed that day.
13: Health insurance: Notify the medical insurance carrier immediately. Request a replacement policy number.
14: Auto insurance/AAA: Notify the insurance company immediately. You don’t want someone using your information in the event of an accident. Request a replacement policy number.
Tips for Dealing with the Authorities and Financial Institutions:
This fact sheet offers recommendations on how to make your online experiences safe and enjoyable. The following subjects will be addressed:
In recent years, more people have found the Internet a convenient way to shop, pay bills and track banking activity. The world of electronic commerce, also known as e-commerce, has expanded our purchasing abilities from local retailers to world-wide companies and expedited our ability to shop while maintaining a busy schedule.
Unfortunately, things can go wrong while shopping in cyberspace. Sometimes it is simply a case of a computer glitch or poor customer service. Other times, shoppers are cheated by hackers and thieves.
Above the web site at the top of your screen is a rectangular window that contains the web site address (also called the URL or Uniform Resource Locator). For example, see Trend Micro's free Website URL Checker link on the ITRC website. By checking that address, it can give you clues as to whether you are dealing with the correct company or a safe website.
Cyber-thieves have created web sites that look convincingly like the web sites of well known companies. These sites will capture the credit card numbers of unwary shoppers when they attempt to purchase an item. The thieves then use the stolen credit card numbers to make fraudulent purchases in the shopper’s name. If these shoppers had checked the URL at the top of the screen, they could have noticed that it was not the same URL as the real company.
Secure websites use security technology to transfer information from your computer to the online merchant’s computer. This technology scrambles (encrypts) the information you send, such as your credit card number, in order to prevent computer hackers from obtaining it.
The following items shown on your web browser will indicate a connection to a secure web site.
Do business with companies you already know. If the company is unfamiliar, investigate their authenticity and credibility. Conduct an internet search (i.e. Google, Yahoo) for the company name. The results should usually provide both positive and negative comments about the company. If there are no results, be extremely wary. Reliable companies should advertise their business address and at least one phone number, either customer service or an order line. Call the phone number and ask questions to determine if the business is legitimate. Ask how the merchant handles returned merchandise and complaints. Find out if it offers full refunds or only store credits.
You can also research a company in the Internet yellow pages, through the Better Business Bureau (see listing below), or a government consumer protection agency including the district attorney’s office or the state Attorney General. Perhaps friends or family members who live in the city listed can verify the validity of the company. Remember, anyone can create a web site.
Try to shop on a website of a business that has locations within the U.S. These stores must follow specific state and federal consumer laws. You might not get the same protection if you place an order with a company located in another country.
Look for online merchants who are members of a seal-of-approval program that sets voluntary guidelines for privacy-related practices. TRUSTe (www.truste.com) and BBB online, www.bbbonline.org, are two such programs.
The safest way to shop on the Internet is with a credit card. (Please refer to ITRC Fact Sheet FS 131 – Credit Cards vs. Debit Cards.) In the event something goes wrong, you are protected under the federal Fair Credit Billing Act. You have the right to dispute charges on your credit card, and you can withhold payments during a creditor investigation. When it has been determined that your credit was used without authorization, you can only be held responsible for the first $50 in charges. We recommend that you obtain one credit card that you use only for online payments to make it easier to detect wrongful credit charges, and to keep your other cards from being exposed.
E-commerce shopping by check leaves you vulnerable to bank fraud. Make sure your credit card is a credit card only and not a debit card, or a check card. As with checks, a debit card exposes your bank account to thieves. Further, debit cards are not protected to the extent that credit cards are by federal law.
Disclose Only the Bare Facts When You Order. Never provide a Social Security Number to a vendor. When placing an order, there is certain information that you must provide to the web merchant such as your name and address. Often, a merchant will try to obtain more information about you. This information is used to target you for marketing purposes. It can lead to “spam” or even direct mail and telephone solicitations.
Don’t answer any question you feel is not required to process your order. Often, the web site will mark which questions are mandatory with an asterisk (*). Should a company require information you are not comfortable sharing, leave the site and find a different company for the product you seek.
After placing an order online, you should receive a confirmation page that reviews your entire order. It should include the cost of your order, your customer information, product information, and the confirmation number.
Print at least one copy of the confirmation page and the web page(s) describing the item you ordered, as well as the page showing the company name, postal address, phone number, and legal terms, including return policy. Keep it for your own records for at least the period covered by the return/warranty policy.
You will often also receive a confirmation message that is e-mailed to you by the merchant. Be sure to save and/or print this message as well as any other e-mail correspondence with the company.
A company must ship your order within the time frame stated. If no time frame is stated, you should inquire how long the delivery will take. This gives you an opportunity to cancel the order and receive a prompt refund or agree to any delay.
Here are key shipping considerations:
Even under the best of circumstances, shoppers sometimes need to return merchandise. Check the web site for cancellation and return policies.
Don’t expect less customer service just because a company operates over the Internet. This is especially important if you are buying something that may need to be cleaned or serviced on occasion.
Heed the old adage, “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”
If any of these questions trigger a warning, you will be wise to find another online merchant or buy the product in a store.
Identity thieves are increasingly using the web to scam you and gather credit card, checking account, debit card or Social Security Numbers. Be aware of this trend. Please refer to the ITRC Fact Sheet FS 123 – Scam Assistance.
Check your credit card bills carefully for several months after purchasing on the Internet. Look for purchases you did not make. If you find some, immediately contact the credit card company and file a dispute.
Order your credit reports at least once a year and check for accounts that have been opened without your permission. Please see the ITRC Fact Sheet 125 - How to Order Your Free Credit Report.
Federal law enables shoppers to verify online purchases with merchants using an “electronic signature.” Usually, this process is nothing more than clicking on a box that says you accept the terms of the order. The Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act, also known as the E-Sign Act, is a complex law. Read the Terms of Agreement carefully before completing the transaction.
Listed below are web sites that provide additional information about shopping online.
The FBI’s Internet Fraud Complaint Center allows you to report suspected cases of Internet and e-commerce fraud. www.ic3.gov
The Better Business Bureau certifies web merchants with a privacy seal of approval. You can research merchants through the BBB and also report e-commerce fraud problems at these sites. www.bbb.org and www.bbbonline.org
The Federal Trade Commission’s online shopping advice. http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/menus/consumer/tech/online.shtm
Website created by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to provide shopping tips for buying online prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs on the web. www.fda.gov/oc/buyonline