Victims of Identity theft are confronted with a problem that is unique among victims of crime in the US. Unlike more traditional crimes, a victim of identity theft is forced to prove his or her innocence; not to one group or entity but to many. With identity theft, it will be assumed the victim is really the perpetrator until proven otherwise. As one tries to sort through the damage and clear their name, it is imperative that a victim knows the rights they have under the law, and where to go for legal resources and assistance in their efforts to get past this problem.
In the US, most consumer protection for financially related identity theft and fraud will fall under one of three major pieces of federal legislation. These are the FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act), FACTA (Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act), and FDCPA (Fair Debt Collection Practices Act). It is imperative that a victim of financial identity theft familiarize themselves with all three of these laws, in order to have a better understanding of just what their rights and protections as consumers and as potential victims are.
For financial or criminal identity theft it is also important to review the state laws and statutes directly related to identity theft, both in the state of the victim's residence and the state where any portion of the theft or fraudulent use of the information occurred. A good place to start for any victim at the state level is to contact the state's attorney general's office, or review the state AG's website. This will give the victim a far more thorough understanding of what their legal rights are, and the means of mitigation provided to victims in that particular state. In addition, for victims who may need to seek an attorney for any necessary litigation that may result from the theft, but who lack the necessary means to hire their own attorney; contacting the state's associated Legal Aid Society will often provide insight into where pro-bono or discounted legal services may be found.
In many cases simple knowledge and understanding of the laws already in place will be sufficient for a victim of identity theft or financial fraud to successfully mitigate their case without the assistance of an attorney.
However if the determination is made that the only way to mitigate the fraud is to go to court, having an attorney is a really good idea. In that eventuality, the victim should ensure that whoever they enlist to be their legal counsel, has a clear understanding of identity theft related crimes, and understands that the victim's legal defense rests solely on the fact that they are a victim of financial crime. Traditional legal education often doesn't specifically address this niche area of the law, and any attorney who lacks at least a basic understanding of identity theft issues can often make things worse for their clients, despite the best intentions. A victim who has taken the time and effort to educate themselves will be able to determine who will be a good fit in any pre-hire legal consultation.
Above all, a victim needs to become their own legal advocate. Do a little research and come to an understanding of what protections are provided them under the law. A thoroughly educated victim is a hard one to take advantage of.
"What Are My Rights?" was written by Matt Davis. Matt is a Victim Advisor at the Identity Theft Resource Center. We welcome you to post/reprint the above article, as written, giving credit to and linking back to ITRC Blog