I’m sometimes asked, “If my identity is stolen, what will happen? What can I do to prevent this or how do I protect myself?”
I also hear that my Credit Score is low that can’t get anything from me. This is far from the truth.
To answer those questions takes a little explaining. First, if your identity is stolen, it depends on what part of your identity is taken. People most often think of their credit and what happens if they lose their purse or wallet. If a thief tries to use your existing accounts, that is fraud, and as long as you notify the account holders (the credit card company and/or bank) promptly, your liability is minimal. This isn’t true identity theft, just fraudulent use of your accounts.
If someone opens a new financial account in your name, that’s financial identity theft. This is where monitoring your credit reports becomes helpful. You can do this for FREE once a year at each credit repository at www.annualcreditreport.com. Note that many other, deceptively similar websites are services that charge a fee.
So why do people pay for this type of service? To catch the problems early, most people don’t have the vigilance to check each of the three central repositories every four months, and if you don’t deny a charge within 60 days of the charge, the credit issuing company can hold you liable for the charges, even if you can prove you did not receive the funds.
The next thing I explain to people is that credit card identity theft is less than one-third of all identity theft, the other main types of identity theft include:
- Driver’s License
- Social Security
- Criminal or Character
- Children’s Identity Theft
- Synthetic Identity theft
The different types of Identity theft keep growing every year.
This leads me to my point that access to counsel or an attorney can be essential when dealing with identity theft. Why? It is a legal issue. From a philosophical point of view, if I don’t know my rights, do I have any? An attorney with expertise in this area of law can answer questions and help you stand up for your rights.
Access to an attorney can be beneficial when dealing with the various government agencies and financial institutions. It can also be critical if the identity theft involves criminal activity.
For example, someone uses your driver’s license identity and gets speeding tickets (or worse) and does not show up for the court date. The first you may know this identity has been stolen could be at a routine traffic stop when the officer asks you to kindly step out of the vehicle and takes you in for an outstanding warrant.
In each of the different types of identity theft, having access to attorneys with experience in these types of cases is also important. Just as you wouldn’t ask your family pediatrician about concerns related to your heart concerns, you wouldn’t want an attorney who practices in civil law to represent you in a criminal case related to identity theft.
Another concern with identity theft is establishing jurisdiction. A man in Green Lake Wisconsin found out that two people in Illinois had been working and owned homes under his social security number. The question becomes, was the theft in Illinois or Wisconsin? Who does the investigation? With the epidemic in the number of cases, the importance of one case can be tough to get high priority.
Keep in mind that identity theft is an international crime, and one that organized crime and drug organizations have found very profitable, not just for the money, but to escape prosecution. For the person who has had their identity stolen, knowing about the problem is a good start, then access to attorneys can be of great help in unwinding the legal mess created by the thief.
Clayton and Paula Biewer are Certified Identity Theft Risk Management Specialists (CITRMS) interested in educating consumers and businesses about identity theft, their risks and how to minimize the impact when it does happen. More information is available at by calling (806) 368-6594.