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Identity Theft from a Federal Perspective

Millions of Americans are victimized by identity theft each year. If you have been the victim of identity fraud, a lawyer at Thomas R. Breeden, P.C. in Manassas, VA, can help you to sort out what steps you can take to protect yourself from here and what possible legal remedies may be available to you.

The federal government helps to combat identity theft in two major ways: through its criminal and civil laws, and through the work of public agencies.

Federal Criminal Law

Identity theft became a federal criminal offense with the implementation of the 1998 Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act (ITADA). Most violations are punishable by imprisonment for up to 15 years plus possible fines. Several other types of federal crimes may also be committed with the behavior typically thought of as constituting identity theft:

  • Social Security number fraud
  • Misuse of a U.S. passport
  • False statements to U.S. government officials
  • Credit card or telecommunications fraud
  • Computer fraud
  • Postal fraud
  • Bank fraud
  • Wire fraud
  • Immigration fraud

Federal identity fraud crimes are prosecuted by U.S. Attorneys at the Department of Justice (DOJ). Other federal agencies assist in the discovery and investigation of these crimes, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Postal Investigation Service, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and the Secret Service, among others.

Federal Privacy Laws

Other federal laws govern entities that collect or obtain private information in the course of doing business. For example, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) helps protect private information by regulating credit reporting agencies (CRAs), creditors and users of credit rating information to require accuracy in reporting and restrict the uses of such information.

The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 (FACT Act) further toughened the federal regulation of these parties. The FACT Act also obligates each of the three largest CRAs to release a free credit report to each requesting consumer annually, allowing consumers to more easily monitor their credit reports for accuracy and signs of identity theft.

Various other federal laws protect private consumer information held by various industries. For example, the 1999 Gramm-Leach-Bliley Financial Modernization Act (GLB Act) details requirements for financial institutions to secure their customers’ personal information. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) imposes similar security standards for private information on the health care industry.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

The FTC is the federal agency with responsibility to prevent “unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce” in most situations. 15 USCA § 45(a)(1). Under this responsibility, it has established a Division of Privacy and Identity Protection. The Commission fights identity theft by taking legal action against culpable entities with illegal or inadequate security practices. The FTC also takes consumer identity theft complaints at their website, by mail or by phone. Consumers can file complaints or get advice from the FTC’s Identity Theft Hotline toll free (877-ID-THEFT; TTY 1-866-653-4261).


The federal government provides regulation, enforcement and consumer protection in the area of identity theft. Similarly, each U.S. state has its own privacy and/or consumer protection laws and mechanisms. A victim of identity theft may have remedies under both federal and state law. An attorney knowledgeable and experienced in consumer protection at Thomas R. Breeden, P.C. in Manassas, VA, can help you understand your rights and 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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