Identity theft is on the rise, not least because it is the type of crime that can be committed from just about anywhere in the world. When a criminal is sophisticated enough to gather your personal information, they typically have strategies in place to profit from it – even if that only means selling your details on to others.
According to the FTC, there were over 1.43 million identity theft complaints from consumers in 2021, a rise of 3.3% over the previous year.
As such, it has never been more important to remain vigilant. Your personal information is inherently weak, and criminals do not need to know everything about you to impersonate you. Something as inherently unremarkable as your social security number or driver’s license number can serve as a catalyst for severe ID theft. So, if something doesn’t seem right, it is vital to act fast, and that means enlisting the assistance of a specialist identity theft attorney.
Speak to an Attorney From Bell Law About Identity Theft
Identity theft is a serious legal matter, so it makes perfect sense to consult a lawyer as soon as you become aware of it.
When you work with the team at Bell Law, LLC, you can expect more than just a legal perspective on what has happened. ID theft cases can be long and complex and typically require a detailed action plan to put things right. That means dealing with the fraud department at finance companies, communicating with credit bureaus and credit reporting agencies to restore your score, filing a police report and also interacting with federal agencies to acquire relevant documentation.
Depending on the actions of the identity thief, your lawyer might also have to investigate medical care records, accounts with utility companies and provide evidence to a debt collector or collections agency.
The fact that your identity is stolen is stressful enough, and the thought that you might have to deal with dozens of companies to stop new accounts, repair credit files and regain control of your personal information can be overwhelming.
That’s why we invite clients to take full advantage of all our knowledge and expertise to make the process as easy as possible, while taking significant steps to ensure that they do not fall victim to similar crimes in the future.
Call our team today for an initial free consultation at 816-281-0649.
Identifying Identity Theft
Before you can report ID theft, you need to be able to identify it. When your identity is stolen, weeks or even months can pass between an identity thief gaining possession of your personal information and you spotting that something is amiss.
You might start to notice unfamiliar transactions on a credit card statement or receive correspondence related to arrangements you’re unaware of, spanning everything from credit limit increases to unemployment benefits.
If you have protections in place, you might receive an alert on your credit file that a new bank account has been opened in your name, and this is often the best case scenario. You will receive the alert as soon as the account is opened, and you can take action immediately, such as putting an immediate credit freeze in place.
When You’re a Victim of Identity Theft
When you discover that you have been a victim of identity theft, it is imperative to act fast. As long as your personal records are in the hands of someone else, they can continue to impersonate you, manipulate your credit reports and take out finance in your name – making it your responsibility.
Ideally, you can immediately clear your schedule to focus on the following steps.
Check Your Credit Reports and Contact the Relevant Companies
Typically, you’ll first find out that you’ve been a victim of identity theft through a statement or credit report. For example, you might receive a financial statement in the mail for an account you’ve never heard of. The first step is to contact that company directly to ensure they stop the account.
From there, you should check the reports produced by the major credit bureaus for any other incorrect records. Unsurprisingly, once identity thieves have the information they need to open one account, they will happily reuse it for as long as possible. This might involve opening multiple credit cards, taking on several loans or any combination of fraudulent activities. As with the initial fraud alert, it is vital to stop these accounts quickly.
You may also elect to freeze your credit reports, at least temporarily. This means that the identity thief cannot create any new accounts and buys time for the other required steps.
If you are already in possession of an Identity Theft Report from the FTC, you can place an extended fraud alert on your credit report. In some cases, you can do this if you believe you might be at risk of ID theft and have evidence, such as your details appearing in a published data breach.
Remember that while most people think of fraudulent transactions in terms of a credit account, there are multiple opportunities for fraudsters to use personal information associated with a stolen identity. For example, tax identity theft sees a criminal using someone else’s identity to file tax returns and claim their tax refund. In these cases, you may have to deal with the fraud department of the IRS directly to ensure the correct tax return is assigned to your record.
Meanwhile, in medical identity theft, an individual might use your social security number, Medicare number or other personal information to avail of medical services or to make false claims with your health insurance company.
If the identity theft case also involved your social security number, you may also want to report the case to the Social Security Administration.
Report Identity Theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
It may seem like overkill to report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission, especially in relatively minor cases. However, this is a vital early step, as you will receive an FTC identity theft report. This is an essential document for proving to banks, creditors, and other companies involved that you have indeed been an identity theft victim and should not be held liable for a fraudulent account.
Inform Your Local Law Enforcement Agency
While the FTC will provide a report that verifies ID theft, it does not investigate cases itself. Instead, that is typically taken care of by law enforcement agencies, and it is down to identity theft victims to make the report when their identity is stolen.
You will need to provide proof of your identity when filing a police report, and should ensure that you keep a copy of it. That, too, may be required by financial institutions, debt collectors and credit reporting agencies alongside the report received from the FTC.
All identity theft cases are different, and the nature of the subsequent investigation will vary. Naturally, if someone stole your identity, the police will look to file criminal charges if they can find the identity thief and they are based in their jurisdiction. The police report is just the beginning, and your attorney will continue to liaise with law enforcement on your case as needed.
File an Identity Theft Insurance Claim
While identity theft insurance is not yet mainstream, its popularity is unsurprisingly growing in line with increased risks. It is available through specialist insurers, and the three major credit bureaus typically offer such a service as part of broader identity protection packages.
If you do have identity theft insurance, it is important to file a claim as early as possible. Like other companies, you may need the relevant reports from the FTC and local police department before a claim is paid.
If you do not have this kind of insurance but want to ensure that you are protected in the future, you might decide to make taking out such insurance part of your recovery plan. Do be aware that this insurance does not usually cover direct financial losses and unauthorized charges through fraudulent accounts, such as money withdrawn from a bank account overdraft. Instead, it covers costs associated with recovery.
Any money lost as a result of being a victim of identity theft is a separate matter but one that your attorney, in conjunction with the relevant local law enforcement agency, will be able to deal with on your behalf.
Protecting Yourself Moving Forward
It is easy to assume that identity theft is something that happens to other people. Still, there is nothing quite like falling victim to an identity thief to verify that ID theft can happen to anyone and at any time.
Continue Your Credit Freeze
If you have been a victim of identity theft, you will probably have put a freeze on your credit report while putting everything back in order. However, even when you are satisfied that the issue has been resolved, you might choose to instruct each credit reporting agency to maintain the freeze, especially if you have no plans to apply for credit in the near future.
A security freeze on your records with a credit bureau does not make you entirely immune to identity theft. A determined thief can still carry out fraudulent activity with your social security number or if they have access to existing information related to credit accounts, such as bank statements.
Nevertheless, they will no longer be able to commit fraud that requires access to your credit file, such as opening a new account with credit card companies.
Use a Credit Monitoring Service
Whether or not you decide to freeze your credit file, you can also benefit from credit monitoring services if you are worried about becoming a victim again in the future. While you are entitled to a free credit report from credit bureaus each year, a lot can change in the twelve months between receiving them.
While free credit reports are an excellent way to see what lenders see when you apply for credit, they rely on the person spotting anomalies. A credit monitoring service will do this on your behalf. An increase in potentially fraudulent transactions will trigger fraud alerts, ensuring that individuals know that they need to take action.
Do note that if you have an identity theft report, you are automatically entitled to additional protections
Update Your Information
Some people unwittingly make it relatively easy to give criminals access to their personal information, and there are simple steps you can take to protect it. For example, if you use the same password for multiple bank and credit accounts, you should make a point of changing all of them and ensuring they are all unique.
In some cases, your attorney might be able to identify the vulnerabilities that caused you to fall victim to ID theft in the first place, and they can help you to take action to ensure that the same does not happen again.
Of course, some updates are more difficult than others. You are free to change your passwords at any time, and if you have evidence of ID theft, you can liaise directly with agencies to fix your credit reports. However, if the source of the identity theft was your social security number, it may involve a more complex process.
Typically, the Social Security Administration will not change a social security number outside of specific circumstances. Fortunately, ID theft is one such circumstance. As long as you have a valid police report and other evidence to support your case, you can apply for a new number. The SSA reviews each application on its individual merits and warns that a change in number can cause further issues. For example, your credit and employment histories are tied to your social security number, and changing that number may result in losing those records.
Once again, your attorney will be able to provide tailored advice on the best course of action based on your individual circumstances.
Bell Law Can Help Get You Back on Track
Suppose you’ve received a fraud alert on your credit report, spotted something unusual on a bank statement or have been contacted about a financial agreement you never made. In that case, you might be a victim of identity theft.
Crucially, a fraud alert is not something that should ever be ignored. Something must have triggered it, and it warrants further investigation, even if it turns out to be erroneous.
That’s one of the reasons why, at Bell Law, we invite all prospective clients to contact us for a completely free consultation, all without any obligation. It is far better to identify and address a potential problem to find that it is nothing to worry about than to give an identity thief free reign with your personal information.
Our attorneys will help you to understand the warning signs and support you in taking action to put things right. You’ll receive access to the full breadth of our legal expertise, combined with a unique personal touch that ensures we always do what’s right for you and your unique case.
If you have suspicions around identity theft, have filed a police report and are unsure about what to do next or have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Call Bell Law, LLC today at 816-281-0649.