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Identity Theft: Answers to Common Questions

Identity Theft

This article, adapted from material by the National Center for Victims of Crime, answers common questions about identity theft.

What is ID theft?

Texas Penal Code 32.51 is the section that provides for identify theft as a crime in Texas: “A person commits an offense if the person, with the intent to harm or defraud another, obtains, possesses, transfers, or uses an item of identifying information of another person without the other person's consent …”

My identity has been stolen. What do I do now?

Remain calm. This will be a lengthy and stressful process, but as long as you know you are following a plan, you can increase your chances of solving most, if not all of the problems you face, and increase your chances of recovering as much as the money you have lost as possible.

Your first step will probably not involve notifying authorities; although that is one of the steps you will likely take. Your very first step will be to pull your credit report from all 3 major credit reporting agencies. 

This is free if you have not received a copy of your report in the previous 12 months. In most cases, you can do this online.

Preparation and organization will help you immensely as you navigate through this process. Keep track of your time and expenses with as much documentation and journaling as possible. Start a file, if not several files, so that you can keep your information organized.

Check the Office of the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division's guide to identity theft.

How was my identity stolen?

There are a number of ways a person’s identity can be stolen:

Credit Card Skimming. This involves the use of technology that can sometimes be spotted at gas stations or ATMs.  The “skimmer” is placed on top of the actual scanner, so it’s sometimes hard to spot.

Dumpster Diving. Searching through trash to find personal information to steal

Hacking. Electronically breaking into personal computers, databases at financial institutions, and online retailers to steal personal information

Stealing personal effects (purse, wallet). Using someone’s driver’s license, personal checks, or credit or debit cards directly

Phishing. Using spam email or the phone to pose as a legitimate organization to lure victims into revealing bank or brokerage account information, password, PINs, Social Security numbers, and other types of confidential information

Can I get my money back?

Victims can lose

  • Time and money spent clearing up financial and credit records
  • Lifetime or retirement savings, benefits, or personal property
  • Home or home equity
  • Retirement income
  • Ability to live independently; and
  • Employment

The chance of recovering all of the money you have lost is slim.  However, the Identity Theft Guide and other resources can help ensure that you receive as much money as possible.

How can I prevent having my identity stolen?

  1. Secure your social security number (SSN). Don’t carry your social security card in your wallet or write your number on your checks. Only give out your SSN when absolutely necessary.
  2. Don’t respond to unsolicited requests for personal information (your name, birthdate, social security number, or bank account number) by phone, mail, or online. 
  3. Watch out for “shoulder surfers.” Shield the keypad when typing your passwords on computers and at ATMs. 
  4. Collect mail promptly. Ask the post office to put your mail on hold when you are away from home for several days. 
  5. Pay attention to your billing cycles. If bills or financial statements are late, contact the sender.
  6. Review your receipts. Promptly compare receipts with account statements. Watch for unauthorized transactions.
  7. Shred receipts, credit offers, account statements, and expired cards, to prevent “dumpster divers” from getting your personal information.
  8. Store personal information in a safe place at home and at work.
  9. Install firewalls and virus-detection software on your home computer.
  10. Create complex passwords that identity thieves cannot guess easily. Change your passwords if a company that you do business with has a breach of its databases
  11. Order your credit report once a year and review it to be certain that it doesn't include accounts that you have not opened. Check it more frequently if you suspect someone has gained access to your account information. 

What type of victim do thieves usually target?

These are characteristics of financial fraud victims in general:

  • Senior adults, especially those who have mental or physical impairments
  • Individuals who are physically impaired
  • Those who have cognitive issues or age-related mental incapacity (e.g., dementia or Alzheimer’s patients)
  • Those who are grieving the loss of a loved one or in another way emotionally vulnerable
  • Victims of domestic violence
  • Near-retirees
  • Previous victims of financial fraud
 

 

I have reported my ID theft to several agencies. Why haven’t they called me back?

Reporting is important.  It will allow you to assert certain rights, it will allow research agencies to more accurately account for how much identity theft is occurring, and where and when and to whom it is occurring, it allows for the sharing of information to other reporting agencies that can protect consumers by working on prevention and detecting fraud.  

That said, sometimes those are the only purposes for reporting.  In other words, in many cases, the act of reporting does not cause a case to be opened or an investigation to begin.  Therefore, the agency will not have a need to return your call or to follow up on your report. Managing expectations regarding your claims will help you as you work to clear up all the problems resulting from this criminal act.

What if no one finds out who stole my identity?

This is often the case. However, this does not necessarily prevent the victim from being able to recover their money.  In some cases, organizations, institutions, and even the credit reporting agencies may be liable for some of the damages you have incurred.

You may want to contact the National Crime Victim Bar Association for a referral to an attorney who can litigate on your behalf. You might find private attorneys that will offer their initial consultations at no cost or obligation.

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