Criminal Identity Theft
It’s a terrifying scenario that occurs all too frequently. You’re ready to buy a house or a new car, or start a new job. The prospect of taking this step is cause for both anxiety and excitement. After many months of planning or seeking that perfect opportunity, you’re ready for that next big step in your life. Then, the lender/salesman/banker/potential-employer returns with a pensive look on his face. He informs you that the job (or loan) you applied for cannot be approved. When you ask for the reason, they will hesitate, reluctant to inform you that a review of your background has revealed you have a criminal record!
“That’s impossible!” you protest.
“I’m sorry sir, but that is not something for us to determine. We simply look at what the report tells us.”
“And what is the report telling you?” You ask in alarm, while your mind reels, trying to understand what possibly could have occurred. “This has to be a mistake!”
“I’m sorry sir, we cannot tell you exactly what was found, only that you have warrants for your arrest, and as such, we cannot approve you at the present time.”
You may argue, you may protest, but in the final result the banker or merchant or employer will not determine the validity of the background check. He will only be able to proceed according to the information uncovered, and company policy. You are denied.
You drive home, utterly dejected, confused, and completely terrified of the possible implications this information may have on your future. What you thought was going to be an exciting next step in your life has turned out to be the beginning of a severe challenge that, by the end, will cause significant stress, divert time and energy away from your other goals, and may even change your life forever. All the time and energy you will spend will not be used to advance yourself, but simply to attempt to repair what has been tarnished, your identity.
As someone who deals with victims of criminal identity theft every day, I have identified five of the most important tips I can think of to speed you along your road to recovery.
1. Don’t act the victim. It means just what it says. When you find out that another has used your personal information without your consent to advance themselves at personal cost to you, it is completely natural to feel angry, betrayed, depressed, or overwhelmed. Try to control these emotions, and realize that you are the one that will have to assertively and proactively attack this problem in order for it to be resolved.
State agencies and other organizations designed to assist you with your identity theft case will not be able to help you if you’re not willing to take the initiative to help save yourself. There is no “cookie cutter” case in criminal identity theft. That also means there is no “cookie cutter” solution. Calling up a company and agreeing to pay them some monthly amount just isn’t going to help much with a criminal identity theft case. It’s like getting into shape, or building a business. There is no magic pill, service, or solution that will come along and be your quick fix or easy way out, so get that idea out of your head. Understand that only through your own determination can you fully resolve your criminal identity theft case.
2. Information is your best friend. The more you have, the better equipped you’ll be, and the closer you are to resolution. The first and most important thing you must do upon realizing you’ve become a victim of criminal identity theft is to get any and all information you can involving your case.
In financial identity theft cases, victims are told to order their credit reports. These reports provide valuable information about ways the thief has used their Social Security Number. The reports provide the victim with the information needed to identify fraudulent activity, and with a police report, to start the resolution process.
In a criminal identity theft case, the beginning step is usually not as simple as picking up the phone and ordering a credit report. Somewhere, someone has committed some criminal offense using your personal information, whether it is the lowest traffic or parking violation, or as serious as a Class A Felony.
Despite the difference in severity, the first step in criminal identity theft is similar to any other type of identity theft case: search for good information. In this context, what you’re after are case numbers. You need, to establish what offenses you are charged with, what jurisdiction (county, city, state) they came out of, what the case number is, the date of the offense, and ( if possible) the names of any officer who supposedly cited you, and/or worked your case.
Often times your potential employer or banker won’t provide a copy of the background check they ran or even disclose what negative information they found on it. If they won’t give you that information (always best to ask of course), you need to find another way to acquire it. (They have to at least show it to you - that is the law according to the consumer report part of FACTA.) Usually they will tell you, at the very least, which company they used to run their background checks, and you can then see if you can request a copy directly from that reseller of information. You can request your own report from commercial background check companies as well.
If you happen to be lucky enough to find a police officer/agency willing to run a background check for you, this is always the best method. This will give you the most updated, accurate report. Sometimes commercial background check companies use outdated sources or have incomplete information. The best ally you can possibly have in a criminal identity theft case is someone willing to work with you to help you from within the law enforcement community. (See step 4) Once you know what jurisdiction the charges are coming from, you’re well on your way to getting the situation resolved.
3. When working on your case, keep a detailed notebook of everything you do and everyone you talk to. If you’re on the phone with a police agency who may give you instructions to go somewhere, call someone, or fill out some form - whatever that instruction or advice may be, write it down, along with the name and agency of whoever told it to you. When you have to deal with multiple agencies or individual parties, you may get conflicting information, or different advice depending on who you talk to. It is very helpful to say something to the effect of “well that’s odd because Officer John of ABC PD told me you were the person I needed to talk to, or this was the form I needed to submit.”
Knowing who said what to you specifically will go a long way to establishing credibility with whoever you are talking to. It will tell that person two things: First, you’re a serious victim, and are doing whatever you can to clear your name. And second, you are sending a message to them that if they disregard you or give you the “we can’t help you” routine, that will be both willing and able to report what was said to you to others, including potentially the supervisors, clients, or partners within the same agency. Knowing they’ll be held accountable to others for what they say to you will keep them strictly following agency/company guidelines, and not inventing their own. This is always advantageous to you. As stated in Step 2, good information has now become your best friend. You want to hoard it like a bee collecting honey; you just can’t have too much of it.
4. Find someone in law enforcement to believe in you. As a victim of criminal identity theft, you may find that those whose help you’ll need in resolving your case may seem reluctant to help you. This is because, at first, many will be unsure if you’re truly the victim, or someone simply trying to avoid the responsibility of your actions.
Unfortunately, because identity theft has really only been on the radar of law enforcement for the last ten years or so, many jurisdictions don’t have much of a system for helping victims, or even a very good understanding of how serious a situation criminal identity theft can become. Most of the law enforcement you will deal with on a local level were traditionally trained in more well established crimes, and are somewhat reluctant to actively investigate a case of identity theft. Any criminal identity theft case worker will have dealt with an occasional police officer who doesn’t even know what the identity theft laws in their state really say or do. If you encounter an officer who is not willing to file a police report for you, ask for a supervisor, or an investigator from a different department. You don’t have to be angry or mean, just say thank you, hang up, and search for someone else who may be more willing to help you.
Never trust that the officer who picks up the phone at the front desk will know what the law says in regard to your identity theft case. This person may just be a civilian clerk or a street officer on light duty, and unfamiliar with identity theft cases. If he says the law in your state doesn’t permit him to help you, he’s almost certainly flat wrong.
Do your own research regarding state laws, and then look for another member of law enforcement who can help you. Trust that this individual cop is not the only door to get some assistance from law enforcement. In most states, you have the right to file a police report asserting yourself as a victim of identity theft. Even in the states you don’t have this as a law, it’s still nearly always within their power to file a police report if they so choose. Many police officers, especially on the local level, don’t like identity theft cases because they’re hard to clear. If a case involves a family member or close relation to the victim, they are concerned that the victim won’t follow through during the prosecution, meaning all the hard work is for naught. What you as the victim must understand is this: the greatest value of a police report, as far as you’re concerned, has nothing to do with catching the bad guy, and everything to do with re-establishing your good name.
Everyone and I mean everyone - whether it is law enforcement, government agencies, merchants, credit reporting agencies, or any other group or agency you will need to clear your identity – will generally view the presence or lack thereof of a police report as the primary criteria for distinguishing the true victims from the possible criminals claiming innocence. Without a police report, merchants won’t remove fraudulent debts from your credit history, background check companies won’t update your criminal history, and creditors will still view you as a liability.
It is imperative you find someone in the law enforcement community that both believes you to be the victim that you say you are, and is willing to devote some of their busy work schedule to help you. When you find this person, they will be your best ally in defusing a case of identity theft:
- They can help you file a police report asserting you’re a victim
- Get copies of your fingerprints
- Have your picture taken and sent to any jurisdiction where charges may be pending against you (or no longer pending but still appearing on your background checks)
- Help you get a letter of clearance furnished to you from the District Attorney.
A Factual Finding of Innocence (FFI), which is ultimately what you want, is usually provided by the law enforcement agency that arrested “you” (the perpetrator claiming to be you) after comparing your actual prints and photo to those of the perpetrator they actually arrested. You must remember that a law enforcement agency isn’t going to make use of fingerprint copies faxed over from a general business. The “real” fingerprints must come from some other law enforcement agency. This might be the police department where you live. But again, a friend in the law enforcement community, new or old, can go a long way to helping you get your situation resolved.
5. Above all and without exception, you must be totally honest and transparent in all your dealings related to your case. What you must understand is that, in-addition to any financial or legal difficulty your identity theft may have caused you, it is also going to cause you difficulty in a much less tangible yet potentially even more significant way. It’s going to negatively impact the value of your good name, your credibility. If you are the true victim, you should never feel the need to be anything less than 100% honest. I don’t care if you have a previous legitimate criminal history. If in the here and now, you’re a victim, you still have the same rights as any other victim. Just be honest.
Inform the police when you talk to them straight off the bat, “I did have some previous problems legally that were my responsibility, etc.” Never let anyone you’re dealing with in resolving your case catch you in a lie, even a lie of omission, because it will utterly destroy whatever sliver of credibility you had.
Essentially, everyone’s basic goal in attacking a case of identity theft is to restore their good name, either legally or financially, and that goal is never aided by further deception. Even just the sense that you’re not being 100% truthful will send those who may be willing to give you the benefit of the doubt running for the hills. Police officers will stop taking your phone calls; merchants will refuse to have their fraud people even review your claim; even lowly non-profit criminal investigators dedicated to identity theft will want to avoid you.
I have had supposed victims seek out my help while being less than truthful about their true status as a “victim.” I always do my due diligence before contacting law enforcement or government agencies in a victim’s defense. If I detect any ambiguity or falsehood in dealing with a victim, I will explain to the person that I cannot help them. Honesty is not only the best policy; it is absolutely essential if you want to successfully resolve your case of criminal identity theft. If you’re really the victim, you have no reason to hide from the truth. The truth, just like information, shall set you free.
Criminal identity theft can be one of the scariest and most trying experiences a person may ever go through. Victims should find hope however in knowing that through educating yourself, being tenacious, and proactive in your pursuit of justice, it is something that can be resolved. The bottom line is, while assistance can be found, ultimately how you handle the situation will determine whether the final outcome is a positive or negative one. ITRC is here to help. Our toll-free line is 888-400-5530.