How to Work with Your Investigator
When identity theft strikes, it can be hard to know where to start.
The goal of the following information is to enhance your working relationship with law enforcement and credit investigators. It includes:
- Why Should I Have To Do Most Of The Original Work?
- First Steps: Prior To Talking With The Investigator
- Making Your Report
- Behind The Scenes
- Evidence Issues
- What You Can Do To Help Your Investigator
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. It’s possible, but more likely this feeling is related to poor communication and a lack of information.
The tips in this sheet will help you to focus on the pertinent facts. It will also help you state your case in a way that is most useful to the police and fraud investigators
WHY SHOULD I HAVE TO DO MOST OF THE ORIGINAL WORK?
Fraud crimes involving identity theft 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 a complicated story, the person hearing the details may only get a rough idea 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 are just not relevant at the time. By writing down the details for yourself, you will outline and organize the case in your mind so that you can tell the story clearly.
FIRST STEPS: PRIOR TO TALKING WITH THE INVESTIGATOR
- Prior to speaking with an investigator, start a journal so you can record details as they occur (refer to ITRC Fact Sheet 106 - Organizing Your Identity Theft Case).
- 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 where the fraudulent activity occurred and/or purchases were made. Be as specific as possible.
- Exact addresses where goods, services, utilities were delivered in your name.
- Home addresses and telephone numbers listed on those applications.
- Names used either as primary or secondary account holders.
- The entire account number of any accounts that are referenced
- 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 you have contacted about a potential fraud, and their phone numbers, emails, and fax numbers. Include dates and times 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 you received regarding this case.
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.
- 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. [click here for Example of Victim Summary or Narrative]
- 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, and cell phone 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
- NOTE: Some states are “right to report” states, meaning they will take your report of identity theft regardless of if you have proof or not. Check our interactive map to see if your state is a “right to report” state.
MAKING YOUR REPORT
- Listen and Participate
- Call your local law enforcement agency on the non-emergency number. It is very important to state that you are a victim of identity theft (or a victim of criminal impersonation if it is a case of criminal identity theft). Avoid using the word “fraud” as that is a different type of crime. Ask if they have a fraud or identity theft investigation task force who can take your report. If they do, ask to be transferred. If not, ask to speak to an officer or a detective.
- Some departments will take your report over the phone, some will direct you to an online form, and some will only file an “incident” report (depending on evidence and situation).
- Be polite and work with the officer. Make sure you explain that you need a report of identity theft so you can clear your name. In many cases, a thief is operating out of a police officer’s jurisdiction and the officer cannot pursue the case themselves. You can, however, request the officer forward the report to the jurisdiction where the crime occurred.
- If the officer you are speaking with will not file a report, you can request to speak with the Watch Commander on duty. This is the person in charge of that shift of police officers.
- If you still cannot file a report, show the officer this letter by the Federal Trade Commission to show the officer the importance of the police report.
- If you are still met with resistance, go to the next closest precinct and try again. Report all officers who refused to assist you to the Attorney General’s office for your state.
- Obtain a business card or write down the name and phone number of the officer who took your report, and write down the police report number.
- Request a copy of the report. Ask how much it will cost and how long it will take to be ready. They may charge you a fee and it can take up to two weeks for an official report to be made available to you. Follow up as necessary to ensure you have a copy of your report. You may not receive notification when it is ready.
- Asking Your Questions – You may have some questions for the investigator once your report is made. These might include:
- What are the procedures from this point forward?
- Who is the primary contact for your case?
- What should you do if you find out more information, or if you get another collection notice? Should you call, email, or mail it to them?
- How long will it take to get a copy of the police report (or a letter of investigation if you’re contacting a credit card company)?
- 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 it’s difficult to accept, your focus should initially be 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 – WHAT’S TAKING SO LONG?
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, then focus on clearing your name.
- 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 in order to determine the potential for 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, as detectives rarely work on one case at a time. Your case may 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 could 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 rearrested 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 for months with no activity, then suddenly the imposter does something foolish and evidence is found to tie them to your case.
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.
- "I threw some old checks in the trash. Why won't you arrest him?" Taking paper from your trash does not prove that this person passed the bad checks. The police must have conclusive proof. Examples include a witness or videotape of the transaction.
- "The only place I left an application with my middle initial was at the phone company. It must be the employee who took the info." Again, where is the proof?
- "The thief used a credit card to get a computer. I know the address it was delivered to." The police must prove that the person receiving the merchandise committed the crime.
- "I know the person who took my identity. He stayed at my house a couple of days." The police must first prove that you didn't give the suspect permission to take the info and that this "friend" actually committed the crime.
- A criminal uses your stolen driver's license. The imposter could claim, "I must have picked this up from the bar instead of my own. I thought it was mine."
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP YOUR INVESTIGATOR
Once you make your report, it is now the investigator's case. However, you can ASK how you might help and work with them. This is not their only case, so respect their time and be brief in your phone calls. Get right to the point. Remember, rudeness never works. 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 you’re the case will end in an arrest and conviction, but if it does not, know that you did everything humanly possible. Many detectives face unsolved cases while hoping that sometime, somehow, a new piece of evidence will finally prove to be the imposter's undoing.