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If you have ever been a victim of identity theft fraud, you know that the countless hours of time spent trying to get through the maze of paperwork, phone calls and red tape can be daunting. Historically, identity theft restoration has been a do-it-yourself endeavor. But with identity theft crimes on the rise, and schemes getting more complicated and damaging than ever before, lawyers are starting to get involved in the recovery process to help identity theft victims get their credit histories back in order.
Lawyers are often called to provide assistance when the identity theft involves individuals with complex personal finances, or theft that involves entire business funds and financing, such as those for entrepreneurs and small businesses. Time literally becomes money and the complexities of identifying, reporting, and repairing the damage could easily warrant the need for legal counsel.
More surprisingly, law firms are beginning to specialize in identity theft assistance and representation for individual victims. For a single, pre-determined retainer fee, a firm will take over the management of your identity theft recovery effort for a full year, more than enough time for most cases to be resolved. The fee typically includes consultation to determine the scope and impact of the theft, direct contact with entities that need to be notified of the stolen identity, and drafting affidavits, letters and follow up correspondence necessary.
For identity theft victims who either don't have the time or don't have the inclination to spend the time calling, tracking, filing, and following up to clear their credit histories of fraudulent charges, this new trend of specialty lawyers may prove to be well worth the investment.
Check your local yellow pages or search online for information about law firms that specialize in identity theft recovery.
You may be well-informed about protecting yourself from identity theft fraud, but once you become a victim, you discover that you know far less than you thought about what steps to take for identity theft restoration.
While most agencies can offer assistance in the form of advice and information on how you can navigate the recovery process yourself, many people would prefer to find an advocate who can handle the details for them. There are some opportunities for accessing on-staff help.
In an effort to attract new depositors and differentiate from their competition, some community banks and credit unions are partnering with insurers and/or major banks, like Citibank, to offer their customers free identity theft recovery service. Each victim is assigned an expert who serves as an advocate on their behalf, helping notify governmental agencies, prepare documents, contact creditors, and provide any other assistance specific to the individual situation. Contact your bank to find out if it offers identity theft advocate services to its customers.
If you subscribe to a fraud monitoring or fraud alert service, it is likely that the business keeps full-time specialists on staff to provide informational support, as well as interact with companies on your behalf when possible. While it will be necessary for you to remain involved in filling out paperwork and responding to investigators' questions, having someone who oversees the details and can tell you ‘what's next' in the process can be a big relief during a very stressful time.
Identity theft fraud can be an unpleasant experience with a time-consuming recovery period for identity theft restoration. But if you know what to send and whom to send it to the process will go much easier.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) established procedures for correcting fraudulent credit report information. Under the FCRA, the consumer reporting company and the business that sent the information to them (information provider) are both responsible to correct fraudulent information. Protect yourself under the law by contacting both of them.
Consumer Reporting Company
To have fraudulent information blocked from appearing on your credit report, send the consumer reporting agency a copy of a completed identity theft report along with a letter that outlines the specific fraudulent information. In your letter, clearly state that the specified information does not relate to any transaction made and was not authorized by you. The company may require proof of your identity to accompany the correspondence, so it is a good idea to contact them by phone to verify requirements.
The company has four business days after accepting your identity theft report to block the fraudulent information. It is also the responsibility of the consumer reporting company to notify the information provider about the blocked information.
Although the consumer reporting company notifies the information provider of blocked fraudulent information, it is a good idea for you to send a letter of your own along with a copy of the completed identity theft report. State in the letter that the information they are reporting resulted from identity theft.
Depending on how deep and widespread the crime is, an identity fraud victim can spend a lot of hours filling out reporting forms and claim notices, writing letters, and keeping records. To help make the reporting and recovery process easier, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) created an Identity Theft Affidavit in cooperation with banks, credit grantors and consumer advocates. The intent was to make a single reporting form for use by identity theft victims that is universally accepted. You can fill it out once and use it with nearly all companies who require a fraud report. Coupled with a copy of the police report, these documents are the foundation of restoring your financial history after being victimized by identity theft.
You should also file a complaint with the FTC. It serves as the federal clearinghouse for identity theft victims and assists them by providing information and resource referrals to resolve financial and other problems that result from identity theft. They have a wide range of publications and how-to documents for identity theft victims. The FTC also refers victim complaints to appropriate organizations and government agencies for further action and or investigation.
To file a complaint or to get a copy of the Identity Theft Affidavit, contact the FTC online or use the identity theft hotline at 877-438-4338.
To contact the FTC by mail, write to:
Identity Theft Clearinghouse
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20580
Recovering from identity theft fraud may only take a few hours of your time or, if the crime goes undetected for an extended length of time, it could take weeks or months, sometimes years to clear your name. Regardless if the process is a long one or a short one, good record keeping is essential to track and follow up on your actions and record the responses you receive from the people and organizations you contact.
Here are the basics:
One of the most devastating outcomes of identity theft is when a thief is arrested for an unrelated crime and uses the identity fraud victim's personal information when being booked. Suddenly the victim has a criminal record.
According to Privacyrights.org, if you discover wrongful criminal violations in your name, contact the police or sheriff's department that arrested and booked the person using your identity, or the court agency that issued the warrant for the arrest. File an impersonation report and ask to have your identity confirmed. That means the police department will take your fingerprints, a photograph, and copies of any photo ID that you have, like a driver's license and passport. Your fingerprints and photo will be compared with that of the imposter.
Once your innocence is confirmed, make sure you get a clearance letter or a certificate of release to carry with you in case you are wrongly arrested. The law enforcement agency should also recall any outstanding warrants associated with your identity and file with the district attorney's office the record of the follow-up investigation that established your innocence.
Once your name has been recorded into a criminal database it is not likely it can be completely removed. But you can ask that the primary name on the record be changed from your name to the imposter's name, if known, or to “John Doe” if it is not known. Your name should then be noted only as an alias.
Finally, to clear your name in the court records, contact the D.A.'s office in the county where the case was prosecuted.
Crime victims are typically treated with respect and sympathy for the horrendous injustice they've endured. Not so with an identity fraud victim because, on paper, you look like a deadbeat who doesn't pay his or her debts. Often, without warning, identity theft victims learn that their home loan requests are denied, credit card applications are rejected, and debt collectors have their phone number on speed dial. It's now up to them to prove that they didn't do anything wrong.
So how do you go about proving your innocence? First, you need to find and fill out the right documents. Second, you need to send them to the right people. Here are the three primary documents you need and who to send them to:
Police Report. File a police report in the city that the identity theft occurred. Get copies of the report and send one to each of the three major credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union. They will block the fraudulent claim charges from your credit reports. However, keep in mind that if they believe the block is placed in error, they have the right to remove it.
ID Theft Affidavit. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) developed the ID Theft Affidavit in cooperation with banks, credit grantors and consumer advocates with the intent of making a single reporting form that is accepted universally for ID theft. The completed Affidavit can be sent to the three credit reporting agencies mentioned above along with the police report. If you do not have a police report, it can be used by the agencies instead of the police report to begin the dispute investigation. A copy of the form is available on the FTC website.
Creditor Documentation. Most identity theft victims can successfully get accounts closed and debts dismissed by sending the ID Theft Affidavit (or the creditor's own fraud report document) along with a copy of the police report to each creditor. In return, insist on getting written confirmation from the creditor that the disputed account has been closed and the fraudulent debt has been discharged. This letter is your best defense if errors reappear.
|Sheri Ann Richerson|