Identity theft is the use of someone else’s name, identification, address, Social Security number, credit cards, or other personal information without their knowledge or permission to commit fraud or other crimes. Stealing an identity is a Federal crime, and many states have enacted their own statutes outlawing it as well.
How Are Identities Stolen?
Criminals steal identities in a number of ways. Some examples include:
- Robbery: Stealing a wallet or purse to obtain drivers licenses, credit cards, etc.
- Mail theft: Stealing mail, such as bank statements, credit card statements, or pre-approved new credit card offers to obtain identification information.
- Dumpster diving: Rummaging through your trash to find documents containing identification information and account numbers.
- Computer fraud: Hacking into computer systems that contain identification information.
- Phishing: Scamming information from victims by posing as a legitimate business person.
How Can I Protect Myself Against Identity Theft?
The best way to protect yourself against identity theft is to protect your bank and credit card information. Some routines you should get into the habit of include:
- Shred bank statements, mail, receipts, and any other documents that might contain personal identification information before you throw them in the trash.
- Pick up your mail daily and ask a trusted family member, friend, or neighbor to pick it up for you when you are out of town; notify the post office of any change of address.
- Do not keep credit cards in your car where they can be stolen.
- Cancel lost or stolen cards immediately.
- Purchase virus protection for your home computer.
- Create passwords for accessing your home computer, laptop, cell phone, and tablet, so sensitive information will be inaccessible in the event a device is lost or stolen.
- Do not email confidential or sensitive financial information; only communicate this type of information through a trusted and secure website.
What Do I Do If I Think My Identity Has Been Stolen?
If you are a victim of identity theft you should call the police. If there is sufficient evidence, the police will forward your case to the District Attorney’s office to prosecute the person who committed the crime against you. You should also immediately contact your bank and credit card companies and inform them of the problem. You may even wish to freeze or close the accounts.
Can I Sue the Person Who Stole My Identity?
If you are the victim of identity theft, you may be able to sue the person who stole your personal information. It is highly recommended that you contact a criminal lawyer because of the potential complexity of your case. Only an attorney will be able to analyze the facts from your case and determine if, and how, you can sue for the identity theft. An attorney will also be able to advise you of your rights, explain the relevant legal issues, and help in any recovery of damages.