ITRC Fact Sheet 112
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. They may be right. But this also may be partially due to poor communication. We all adjust our communication styles depending on the environment. At work, we talk one way and at home, we could cover the same topic in a variety of different ways. The same is true in crime investigations.
Our victim advisors have often listened to a victim talk about his or her case for 15 or 20 minutes — without being told the pertinent facts or having the victim clearly identify what they need from us. (That’s one of the reasons ITRC is here, to provide the emotional outlet you might need.)
This fact sheet will help you state your case in a way that is most useful to the police and to fraud investigators at financial institutions. The tips in this sheet will help you to focus on the pertinent facts and see your case the way they do.
WHY SHOULD I HAVE TO DO MOST OF THE ORIGINAL WORK?
Fraud crimes 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 another person a story, especially a complicated story, the person hearing the details usually gets a rough sketch 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 really can be left for another time, or are just not relevant. After all, most of us are not professional investigators. The result is that a detective may determine that the case is not workable, when in fact it may be. By writing down the details, you will also outline and organize the case in your mind so that you can easily tell the story quickly.
FIRST STEPS: PRIOR TO TALKING WITH THE INVESTIGATOR
1. Prior to talking with an investigator, start a journal so that you can record details as they occur (refer to ITRC Fact Sheet FS 106 – Organizing your Identity Theft Case).
2. 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 (including department or store) where the fraudulent activity occurred and/or purchases were made. Get exact addresses if possible.
- Locations (exact addresses) where goods, services, utilities were delivered to in your name.
- Locations listed as home addresses on those applications.
- Telephone numbers listed on all applications and orders.
- Names used either as primary or secondary account holders.
- The entire account number of any accounts that are referred to.
- 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, phone numbers, emails and fax numbers of anyone you have contacted about potential fraud. Include what dates and time 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 received by you regarding this case.
- Remember that not all of this information will be available or easy to get. However, try to obtain as much relevant information as you can.
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.
3. 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.
4. 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, cell phone, and pager 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
MAKING YOUR REPORT
Law enforcement officers carry large caseloads. They need to get the information as quickly and as accurately as possible. It is important that we spend their time wisely. After all, the point is for them to catch the bad guys.
1. Listen and Participate
- Give the investigator a paper copy of the narrative you have prepared. This may save everyone some time and avoid forgotten details. Find a secure way to send a copy to them if you only talk by phone, such as a fax (with send receipt), or U.S. Mail certified, return receipt requested.
- Listen to the questions asked and direct your answers to those questions. Usually, investigators have a specific form that they need to fill out. It is designed to cover all the information, without any details falling through the cracks.
- If there is an area you feel has been left out once the preliminary form has been completed, now is the time to add the details you feel are relevant.
- Provide copies of any documentation you have. Let the investigator know of any evidence you think might be available.
2. Question and Communicate
- Write down any questions that you want to remember to ask your investigator prior to his/her arrival or phone call. Take notes. The more you know about this process, the better prepared you will be.
- What are their procedures from this point forward?
- What are their priorities on the case?
- Will you always have the same investigator on the case? (You want to know who will be your primary contact.)
- What should you do if you find out more information that may help them, or what to do if you get another collection notice? Should you call, email or mail it to them?
- How soon until you can get a copy of the police report (or a letter of investigation from a credit card company)? What are the procedures for getting it?
- When will you hear from them next?
- 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 difficult to accept, probably your best course of action is to focus 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
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, focus on clearing your name.
- The first thing that will happen is that 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, trying to determine the potential of 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 cases. Detectives rarely work on one case at a time. Many times your case will 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 take several weeks and several reminder calls before sending out the 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 re-arrested 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 months with no activity and suddenly the imposter does something foolish and evidence is found to tie them to the 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.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP YOUR INVESTIGATOR
This is the investigator’s case. They must be in charge of the investigation, or you could taint the case. However, you can ask how you might help and work with them. Remember, however, that your theft is not their only case. Please respect their time and be brief in your phone calls. Get right to the point. 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 by following the advice we have provided, your case will end in an arrest and conviction. Should it not, however, know you did everything humanly possible. And please note that many detectives leave unsolved cases on their desk hoping that sometime, somehow, a new piece of evidence will finally prove to be the imposter’s undoing.
This fact sheet should not be used in lieu of legal advice. Any requests to reproduce this material, other than by individual victims for their own use, should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.