Identity theft cost Americans $56 billion in 2020. And it’s a crime that is growing, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s 2020 Consumer Sentinal Network Data Book. The FTC says identity theft rose 113% from 2019 to 2020.
What is identity theft? What do you do if your identity is stolen? You don’t want to pay bills thieves rung up in your name or have your credit ruined. How do you protect yourself and get back your good name? Fortunately, you do have rights, and you don’t have to go it alone.
An identity theft lawyer can help you sort through your legal options. They can help you protect yourself from bill collectors, reestablish your good credit, and sometimes even help you recover your losses.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is when someone steals your personal information, like your Social Security number, credit card number, or banking information. The information is then used to commit financial fraud.
There are several kinds of fraud associated with identity theft. Here are a few of the most common:
- Credit card fraud is when criminals use your credit card information to buy things using your credit card. If they have your social security number, they can open new credit cards in your name.
- Bank fraud is when thieves use your bank account information, like debit card numbers or online banking login to drain your bank account.
- Social Security fraud often involves someone using your social security number to create a false identity. Your information is sometimes sold to undocumented workers who use it to get a job. But your Social Security number can give thieves access to your other personal information.
- Income tax fraud is when thieves use your information to file a false tax return claiming a refund. They aren’t stealing your tax refund but stealing from the federal government. Income tax fraud can make collecting your tax refund a long and arduous process.
- Utility fraud is when someone uses your information to order water, gas, cable, or other utility services. Then, of course, they don’t pay the bill.
How Is Your Information Stolen?
You may not know how thieves got ahold of your information. That’s because traditional identity theft involves criminals stealing data from large institutions like banks, credit card companies, employers, credit reporting services, and government agencies.
Identity thieves are getting more brazen. Clever criminals are tricking their victims into sharing sensitive personal data at an alarming rate. More than 76% of identity theft cases in 2020 were the result of these scams.
How to Know if You’re a Victim
The Federal Trade Commission says there are signs to watch for, including spotting unexplained withdrawals from your bank account, unfamiliar charges on your credit card statement, not receiving your regular bills or other mail, a merchant unexpectedly refusing your check, and debt collectors calling about debts that aren’t yours.
You may be a victim of health insurance fraud if your health plan won’t cover you because their records show a medical condition you don’t have, or that you’ve already had a particular treatment—like gall bladder surgery.
Getting a notice from the Internal Revenue Services (IRS) about a suspicious tax return you didn’t file should be a warning flag. If you can’t file your taxes electronically, it could be a sign that someone else has already filed a tax return using your name and Social Security number.
You may be notified by a financial institution or other company where you do business that a data breach compromised your information. Hackers can steal any information the company has about you, including your name, birthdate, email address, phone number, social security number, credit card numbers, etc. This kind of identity theft is the most difficult for thieves, but it can be the most lucrative.
What to Do if Your Identity Is Stolen
The first thing to do if you suspect you are a victim of identity theft is to report the incident. Alerting authorities may help stop the thief before they victimize anyone else. It may also help you recover funds if the thief is caught.
But the police aren’t the only ones you should call. You will need to alert your bank and credit card companies if you believe someone has stolen your identity. Even if they haven’t used a particular credit card, alerting the financial institution that issued the card can help protect you from fraud.
You may need to contact government agencies to report the identity theft. If the thieves have your Social Security number (SSN), the Social Security Administration says you should call them and request a fraud alert be placed on your social security number. You should contact the IRS and request an Identity Protection PIN to stop thieves from filing false tax returns in your name.
You should also report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at their consumer identity theft resource site, IdentityTheft.gov. Filing an FTC report helps ensure businesses and creditors know your identity was stolen.
You may want to contact an attorney who specializes in identity theft. The best identity theft lawyer will have a lot of experience working with identity theft cases. They’ll understand federal and state laws and the processes required to help you reach a successful resolution.
Do You Need an Identity Theft Lawyer?
Navigating liability after identity theft can be complex. The identity theft experts at Financialjusticenow.com say you have rights and remedies available under federal and state consumer protection statutes, such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Electronic Funds Transfer Act.
You probably are not liable for fraudulent credit and debit card charges on your accounts, depending on the circumstances. In most cases, you can’t be held liable if someone hacks your bank account.
And you don’t have to live with black marks on your credit report as the result of fraud committed by identity thieves. But you may need help getting those marks removed.
If you know who stole your identity or the authorities catch them, an identity theft lawyer may be able to help you recover any financial losses. There may be other parties who can be held responsible if they had your personal information and didn’t protect it properly.
Identity Theft Doesn’t Have to Ruin Your Life
Recovering from identity theft can be a complicated process. It’s important to have an expert in your corner who knows your rights and responsibilities. An identity theft lawyer can help you navigate the road to financial recovery.
An experienced identity theft attorney can help you clear your credit records and obtain financial compensation and relief from lawbreakers.