Identity Theft - An Overview

Identity theft, also known as identity fraud, occurs when someone uses another person's important personal identifying information for improper purposes. If you suspect you have been the victim of identity theft, an experienced and skilled attorney from Thomas R. Breeden, P.C. in Manassas, VA, can advise you of the possible ramifications and potential legal remedies.

Profile of Identity Thieves

Millions of Americans are victims of identity theft each year. Most commonly, the victim knows the thief, who uses their relationship for access to personal information. Such criminals are usually friends, neighbors, relatives, work colleagues or people employed to provide services in private homes. Even in this digital age, the most common source of personal information is still from a misplaced or stolen purse or wallet. However, an identity thief may be a stranger, and the source of misappropriated personal information can be an electronic or written source.

Common Scenarios

The types of personal information that are most commonly misappropriated and that are particularly subject to misuse include names, Social Security numbers (SSNs), drivers' license numbers, passport numbers, bank account numbers, employer or taxpayer ID numbers, passwords and dates of birth. This information may be used to penetrate assets of the rightful holder, such as making unauthorized withdrawals of money from his or her financial accounts. The stolen identity may also be used by the thief to conduct countless forms of fraudulent business transactions — to obtain credit or a mortgage, to purchase a car or real estate, to lease an apartment, to start utility service and even to obtain employment. Bizarrely, some identity thieves even set up new lives as impostors or commit crimes while masquerading as their identity theft victims. Victims of this type of identity theft have been subject to arrest and prosecution for crimes they did not commit because the trail of evidence led to their names. Other frequent identity fraud pertains to immigration and public benefits.

What You Can Do

When your identity is stolen, there are a few things you should do immediately:

  • Inform all financial institutions or account holders affected by the fraud and close any affected accounts
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which will share the information with domestic and international law enforcement authorities
  • Alert the local police department where the fraud took place and insist that it create a report
  • Contact one of the three main credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion or Experian) to ask that a fraud alert be placed on your credit reports
  • Keep good records of everything that you do to resolve the identity theft
  • Contact an attorney to learn about other remedies, such as possible lawsuits

Identity Theft is a Crime

Identity theft is a federal crime and may violate other federal laws, depending upon the facts of the case. Every state also makes identity theft itself a crime and other state criminal laws are usually violated by typical identity fraud activities. Ultimately, the thief of your identity could be prosecuted in federal or state court and part of the punishment may include restitution to you for your losses.

Civil Remedies

An attorney can advise you about potential civil legal remedies. You may be able to sue the identity thief for your economic and non-economic damages, depending on the law of your state and on the facts of your particular situation. Non-economic damages in some states could include damages for mental anguish. Another possible source of recovery could be from third parties responsible for illegally or negligently releasing your private information, such as financial institutions, credit card companies or any other entity holding private information.

Protect Yourself

Carefully guard your private information from third parties, but if it is misappropriated, aggressively protect yourself from damage. An attorney knowledgeable in consumer fraud and identity theft at Thomas R. Breeden, P.C. in Manassas, VA, can advise you about possible legal remedies.

DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.

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