Most of us know what to do or how to prevent—as much as we can—our identities from being stolen. We know to shred personal documents, safeguard information like our credit cards and Social Security numbers, and we probably even do an annual checkup of our credit scores, just to look out for any suspicious activity. Our money and our good names are safe, or so we thought.
Another lesser known type of is called criminal identity theft, though, and it can involve so much more than just your bank account. Criminal identity theft occurs when someone uses your identity—possibly including actual copies of your official documents, but also just providing the information verbally—in the event he is arrested. The information provided to law enforcement officers is yours, and you are now a part of the criminal justice system.
The most common instances of criminal identity theft luckily include misdemeanors or simple traffic violations, but the problem arises when the imposter fails to appear in court or fails to submit the traffic fine. At that time, a bench warrant is issued in your name. Since the police aren’t likely to stage a manhunt for someone who failed to pay a speeding ticket, that bench warrant is going to sit there in a computer file somewhere, quietly not hurting you.
Until you apply for a job. Or a loan. Or a marriage license.
The list goes on. That warrant—the warrant for your arrest, that is—can and will pop up and ruin your day the next time you get flagged.
Unfortunately, there are far more serious crimes that criminals can also commit prior to handing over your identity to the booking officer. DUIs, assaults, and a wide range of felonies have taken place that ultimately resulted in a stolen identity being used. In those cases, the same situation occurs: the criminal fails to appear in court and a warrant is issued for your arrest, but with serious charges come serious consequences for not showing up.
A DUI on your record can have a very real impact on your job. A violent assault or drug arrest can even impact your children’s living situation. Added to the charge of failing to appear in court, which could have an impact on your finances if the thief used your credit score to post bond, and you’re now in a lot of trouble.
Luckily, there are steps you can take should this happen to you. The first step is to contact your local law enforcement officers and explain that this is an identity theft situation. Gather as much evidence as you can from the arresting officer, such as mug shot and fingerprints, along with copies of whatever identification was used to claim your name. Remember to file a police report that a crime has occurred, since this is a criminal act.
Offer your cooperation in regards to supplying law enforcement officers with your true documents, your fingerprints and photo, and anything else they may need in order to establish that you were not the person they arrested the first time.
While these things may get you off the hook in the short term, you still have some long-term damage to your good name to repair. Request that the police file a recall of all warrants against you, as well as file a statement with the district attorney that this was a case of mistaken identity. Get copies of all reports and statements, even the ones that acknowledge the mistake, as sometimes even having charges against you can hurt you in employment or loan opportunities down the road. Request a declaration from the court that you are innocent of the original charges, and that you were actually a victim of a second crime in this case; this is done to remove your name from the original charges. As your name is now officially (and legally) a known alias of the criminal who not only stole your identity but also committed any number of crimes, you will need documentation from the court that you are not the same person.
Remember that criminals can happily cross county or state lines to do their dirty work, so you’ll need to work with local law enforcement both where you live and where the crimes took place if that’s what happened in your situation. This is to help ensure that you are not wanted in another county or state.
If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center’s Anyone3 fundraising campaign. For more information or to donate please visit http://www.idtheftcenter.org/itrc-launches-anyone3-campaign.