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Thanks to the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act, identity theft and fraud is recognized as a federal crime. Violations of the federal crime are investigated by federal law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Secret Service, the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Social Security Administration's Office of the Inspector General.
Additionally, many states have laws recognizing identity theft as a crime, but the classification and associated punishment may differ from state to state. Below is the U.S. code sentencing classification.
Class A felony: life imprisonment, or if the maximum penalty is death
Class B felony: 25 years or more
Class C felony: less than 25 years but 10 or more years
Class D felony: less than 10 years but five or more years
Class E felony: l ess than five years but more than one year
Class A misdemeanor: one year or less but more than six months
Class B misdemeanor: six months or less but more than 30 days
Class C misdemeanor: thirty days or less but more than five days
Infraction: five days or less, or if no imprisonment is authorized
To find out what classification applies to convictions for identity theft in your state, contact your state Attorney General or local consumer protection agency.
For a list of state Attorney General offices, visit www.naag.org.
For a brief overview of individual state statutes, visit: http://www.ncsl.org/programs/lis/privacy/idt-statutes.htm.
Identity theft and fraud are not new emerging crimes, but it wasn't until The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act was enacted by Congress in October 1998 that identity theft became a federal crime.
Criminal identity theft occurs when someone “knowingly transfers, possesses or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, or in connection with, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable state or local law."
The definition of “means of identification” includes someone's name, Social Security number, bank accounts and credit card numbers, mobile phone serial number, and any other piece of personal information that can be used alone or with other information to identity an individual.
Identity theft cases are investigated by federal law enforcement agencies, and prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Identity theft and fraud cases can be difficult to prosecute, primarily because the key to prosecuting and convicting criminals is solid evidence. With the burden of proof on the prosecutor, the process can be costly and challenging.
Victims must do their part by filing complaints and police reports to document the crime. If you prefer, you can submit your information anonymously. However, evidence for identity theft cases is usually built bit by bit, establishing a pattern and profile of the criminal. The ability for law enforcement officials to contact you during the investigation could be critical to seeking and winning a conviction.
If you are a victim of identity theft, file a police report in the city where the theft occurred, and submit a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can file your complaint online or call 1-877-438-4338.
Telemarketing and junk mail, especially solicitations for new credit cards, put you at greater risk for identity theft and fraud. Offenses are becoming so prevalent that federal law now requires telemarketers to keep an updated list of consumers who do not want to be called. Opting out of both telemarketing calls and credit solicitations is quick and easy. Here's how:
The National Do Not Call Registry allows you to register both your home and mobile phones for free and is effective for five years. Calls from telemarketers should end once your number(s) has been on the registry for 31 days. If you receive a call from a telemarketer after the 31 days has passed, you can also file a complaint with the registry.
If you do not register your phone number with the Do Not Call Registry, you can still be removed from telemarketers' lists by simply saying, “Put me on your do-not-call list” whenever you receive a telemarketing call.
Opt-Out for Credit Offers
One simple phone call will let you opt out of all pre-approved credit-related mail or phone offers coming from the credit bureau lists. The standard length of time you will be exempt from receiving solicitations is two years, but you can also request permanent removal. And, if you change your mind, you can opt back in by calling the same number.
To opt out, call toll-free: 888-567-8688.
Identity theft and fraud victims quickly learn that, by law, they can request a fraud alert be placed on their credit report to monitor activity. This 90-day alert requires each of the three credit reporting agencies to closely track your account and notify you of any new or suspicious activity.
However, more than 30 individual states have adopted credit freeze laws. A credit freeze does more than just require monitoring of account activity – it prevents anyone from reviewing your credit report. Access to your credit report and credit scores is locked and you are the only one with the authority to release information using a predetermined PIN to unlock access to your credit file.
Lenders, retailers, utilities and other businesses need access to a credit report to review and approve new credit, loans and services. With a freeze on your credit report, it doesn't matter how much personal information an identity thief has in his or her possession, without access to your credit report, he or she cannot get new loans, credit, or accounts in your name.
In some states, a security freeze on credit reports is only available to proven victims and it is typically free of charge. In other states, the option is also available to non-victims for a fee. For example, in Minnesota, the fee to place, remove, temporarily suspend, lift for a specific creditor, or have a PIN reissued is $5. While it may be a bit of a nuisance to use a PIN every time you want to apply for a new credit card, home or car loan, the protection that a security freeze provides is invaluable.
As identity theft and fraud become a growing concern, legislation is introduced and passed to help protect consumers. The Identity Theft Protection Act was established to give consumers more protective services and access to personal information collected about them. It is also designed to encourage credit issuers and credit reporters to do their part in making sure credit is extended to the right person. This bill codified the fraud alert option for victims of identity theft. By requesting a fraud alert to be placed on credit reports, the report is closely monitored by the credit reporting agencies and notifies consumers of suspicious activity.
Historically, the Social Security number has often been used by businesses as a person's identification number. In many companies, including health care insurance companies, it has been used as an individual's account number. However, this practice opens doors wide for identity theft. With this growing concern, the Identity Theft Prevention Act of 2007 amends title II of the Social Security Act and the Internal Revenue Code to prohibit the use of the Social Security number for any other reason except for specified Social Security and tax purposes.
This is great news for consumers and you must be diligent in ensuring that companies and organizations you do business with abide by this rule. Check your current accounts to determine if your Social Security number has been used as your account number. Check health insurance membership cards, utility bills, credit card numbers, retirement plans, and any loans or brokerage accounts you may have. If you discover that your Social Security number has been used as identification for the account, contact the organization and request that a new account number be issued.
Just about everything you read about preventing identity theft and fraud tells you that the first line of defense is to review your credit report on a regular basis. And the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) makes that easy by requiring agencies to provide you with your reports once each year at no charge. All you have to do is ask.
The three free reports covered by FACTA are in addition to the free reports you can order when you discover you have been a victim of identity theft and place fraud alerts on your credit reports. Once you receive the free reports you are entitled to from the fraud alert process, follow up a few months later to take advantage of your free FACTA copy.
In 2005, an additional federal Disposal Rule became part of FACTA, requiring businesses and individuals to properly dispose of information in consumer reports and records. This rule was added to protect against “unauthorized access to or use of the information.”
The method of proper disposal of consumer report information is left up to the organizations and individuals who must comply with the rule.
The rule, according to the Federal Trade Commission, applies to any person or organization that uses consumer reports. This includes insurers, employers, landlords, car dealers, debt collectors, mortgage lenders and brokers, government agencies, and any other individual who pulls consumer reports on prospective home workers, such as contractors, cleaning personnel and nannies. The rule also applies to any entity that maintains consumer report information as a service provider to other organizations covered by the rule.
Identity thieves seem to devise new, high tech methods every day to steal identities and commit credit card fraud, both offline and in the virtual world. But a long-standing tactic that victimizes deceased individuals shows no signs of slowing down.
Quite simply, identity thieves acquire the Social Security numbers of the recently deceased and use them to open accounts, apply for credit, and assume the identity as long as possible before being discovered.
The damages from this practice affects surviving spouses and family members, making a difficult time due to the loss of a loved one even more difficult. Depending on the severity of the credit damage, surviving spouse benefits could be affected, and liens placed on bank accounts by creditors for incurred debt could create a financial mess for family members to piece together and restore.
The Identity Theft Protection and Timely Reporting Act of 2007 directs the Department of Commerce, through the National Technical Information Service, to provide a monthly updated Death Master List (prepared by the Social Security Administration) to each consumer reporting agency identified in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
The Identity Theft Protection and Timely Reporting Act amends the FCRA to require fraud alerts to be placed in the consumer files of each individual on the Death Master List by each of the consumer reporting agencies.
By increasing the timeliness of attaching fraud alerts to accounts of deceased individuals, damage due to identity theft crimes will be reduced and more easily remedied.
When your credit is damaged by identity theft and fraud, it is not uncommon for the accumulating debt to be sent to debt collectors to try to recover payment. And debt collectors have a reputation for being aggressive and harassing in their attempts to acquire payment.
If you are the victim of identity theft and debt collectors contact you insisting you pay the bills on fraudulent accounts, follow these steps provided by Privacyrights.org: