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Identity Theft

Identity Theft

Identity theft is the use of someone else's name, identification, address, Social Security number, credit card, or other personal information without their knowledge or permission to commit fraud or other crimes. Identity theft is a federal crime, and many states have passed their own laws outlawing it as well.

A person might save their credit card information on their computer, to a web browser, or within a pre-filled form on a website. It would be considered identity theft if a hacker accessed it and used it to make purchases.

Identity theft can also occur when someone is not careful with their personal data in public. A criminal could easily overhear someone giving out information over the phone, such as their credit card or social security number, while in a public place.

As you can see from the examples above, the internet has given criminals many more opportunities than they had before. In order to protect your personal data, both offline and online, it is important to use safeguards. A thief could steal your identity and leave you with a criminal record, fraudulent tax records, and a poor credit score.

Ways Your Identity Can Be Stolen

There are numerous ways to steal a person's identity. Aside from the specific examples provided above, some more general methods that are used to steal identities include:

  • Robbery: A criminal can physically steal someone else's personal information by robbing them of certain items, such as their driver's license, social security card, debit or credit cards, and so on.
  • Phishing: Phishing occurs when a thief poses as a legitimate business and a person is scammed into giving them their personal information in order to make purchases or because they believe they need to update information like their credit card, address, etc.
  • Computer Fraud: Computer fraud goes beyond standard hacking. This term may also apply to fraudulent website schemes, deleting sensitive government files, romance scams, and any other activities that happen online and result in a person becoming a victim of identity fraud.
  • Social Media: Although this can fall under computer fraud as well, social media can be used for a variety of reasons. A criminal can impersonate someone by using their social media, look for clues about the person that would reveal password hints, find information saved to their social media account, such as a linked bank account, or to message their contacts for documents or sensitive details.
  • Mail Theft: A criminal can intercept someone's physical mail to get personal data as well. Bank statements, credit card statements, and pre-approved credit card offers are all sources of mail that contain key information for thieves.
  • Dumpster Diving: An offender may also dig through a person's trash to search for personal or financial information. Hence, why it is so important to tear up paperwork that displays bank accounts, credit card numbers, handwritten passwords, etc.

How Is Identity Theft Accomplished?

Although identity theft can happen to anyone, identity thieves tend to target two primary groups of people: children and the elderly.

Identity theft is a major problem among children. This is because they are more likely to be impersonated. For example, most children don't have a credit card, driver's license, tax record history, or any other identifying information. Therefore, criminals can use children's information to establish lines of credit, obtain government IDs like passports or licenses, and get a mortgage.

Identity thieves can get a child's information by asking them in person, messaging them online, or accessing them. A parent or guardian with the child's information may use it to open a credit card account or take out a loan. The thieves may also pose as authority figures (such as school administrators) so that the child feels obligated to divulge information to them.

Theft of identity from elderly people can usually be accomplished in one of two ways. The first method is to take advantage of their ignorance of technology. People who are elderly often don't know how to use technology or understand how it works.

Consequently, they may post personal information online where anyone can see it, have poor or no security protections on accounts, or refrain from using technology altogether, opting instead to mail checks.

The second way that thieves obtain information about elderly persons is through theft by deception. Thieves may pretend to be long-lost relatives or medical personnel or show up at nursing homes claiming to be representatives of their bank or other important business and ask them to sign documents.

Identity theft that targets a child or an elderly person will result in severe legal penalties if convicted.

Child Identity Theft

Child identity theft occurs when an adult obtains a child's private information illegally, which may include:

  • Their social security number;
  • Birth records; or
  • Hospital records.

This stolen information is then used for a financial purpose, such as obtaining a fraudulent loan or building a false credit score. Children have become a common target for identity thieves because they typically have a clean credit record.

In many cases, sadly, the identity thief is usually the child's own father or mother. Close relatives including, uncles and aunts or older siblings can also be an identity thief.

Child identity theft often begins as an act that is not intentional. In many cases, the parent that is in debt may take out a loan using the child's social security number.

Because many loan or credit companies do not verify an individual's age, they will issue a loan to the parent. Then, as time passes, the parent may not be able to pay back the loan or they may simply forget it exists.

This load process can be repeated several times with the child's information. Down the road, when the child reaches the age of majority, they will discover that their credit history is ruined.
This issue can place a lot of strain on the parent-child relationship in the long run.

Preventing Child Identity Theft

If you are a parent, there are several steps you can take to prevent child identity theft. A parent should never use their child's social security number or other information for a questionable purpose.

If a parent suspects that another individual is stealing their child's information, they should report the activity to law enforcement. Other tips to prevent child identity theft include:

  • Checking child's credit files with each respective credit agency. Children who are less than 18 years of age should not have an existing credit file. If a file exists, it may mean that someone has used the child's information to establish their own fraudulent credit score;
  • Credit reports may be obtained, typically once a year for free, from various credit bureaus. If any credit report looks suspicious, report this to law enforcement;
  • Child school Child records are a common source of information for child identity theft. Check to be sure that the child's educational child's information is not being abused. A parent may want to inquire with a local school board regarding how they protect confidential information; and
  • Other common targets for child identity theft which should be periodically checked for suspicious activity include:
    • Hospital records;
    • Medical records; and
    • Insurance records.

It is also important to teach a child not to disclose any of their information to strangers or individuals who seem suspicious. Even mundane information such as an address or telephone number may provide an identity thief with clues to complete their identity theft.

An individual may also want to consult with an attorney to learn more about the steps they can take to protect themselves against identity theft.

Identity Theft Against the Elderly

Identity theft, also known as identity fraud, against the elderly happens when an identity thief fraudulently gets the private information of an elderly or senior individual. Miscellaneous financial offenses are then perpetrated using the elderly individual's social security number or credit details.

Such offenses can include making illicit purchases, getting unauthorized loans, or stealing the individual's assets and property. Often, the thief can be a relative or a business that the elderly individual has placed their faith and trust in.

The elderly are typical prey for identity theft for several reasons. First, many have built up large amounts of funds and assets throughout their lives. Also, many elderly individuals have diseases such as dementia which render them unfit to make proper financial conclusions. Finally, many elderly citizens are unfamiliar with the complexities of modern credit accounts. Many grew up in a distinguishable cultural environment that observed word-of-mouth transactions.

Identity theft is only one instance of fraud against the elderly. Other related financial crimes against the elderly include predatory lending and phishing scams.

How Is Elderly Identity Theft Accomplished?

There are two major avenues by which identity thieves can get an elderly individual's information. The first is indirectly by hacking into personal accounts such as credit lines, bank accounts, medical records, or care home records. Often, the thief will get a password or other details that will give them access to such records. Since many retired individuals do not use internet technologies, physical mail is often used.

The second avenue is a direct meeting with the elderly individual, generally via theft by deception. The thief may visit the individual at their retirement home and have them sign a loan document such as a mortgage statement. They can then use the details provided for miscellaneous other criminal purposes. This is common in cases where the elderly individual's mental judgment is no longer sound.

Thus, you can help safeguard your loved ones by being involved if they are approached and asked for their personal details or bank account statements.

Predatory Lending

Predatory lending is a phrase that covers a variety of techniques on the part of lenders who victimize borrowers to get funds to which they would not have access through genuine means.
Predatory lenders will typically grant loans to any potential borrower, even if that borrower cannot repay them. Or, they might loan money to eligible borrowers and then engage in efforts to get more cash out of buyers than they are authorized to.

Most predatory lending practices happen in connection with mortgage loans.

Preventing Identity Theft Against the Elderly

Maybe the soundest way to stop elderly identity theft is to employ an accountant to manage your loved one's assets. Or, you can have a younger relative volunteer their services to assist with finances and management. In any case, be sure that the financial advisor is someone you can trust.

Other steps you can take to stop elderly identity theft include:

  • Do not give out ID numbers or financial details over the phone or mail
  • Shred or destroy all correspondence and records that include details that could lead to identity theft
  • Be mindful of the due dates for bills and statements. If a bill is late in the mail or never arrives, it could be a sign that the mail has been stolen
  • Occasionally order and inspect credit reports for any significant signs of tampering
  • Do not place your Social Security Number or SSN card in your wallet
  • Store unused checks in a secure place, and cancel/report any lost or void banking checks

Who Can Be Held Liable for Identity Theft?

Law enforcement can find the person responsible for identity theft, and they can be sued in both criminal and civil court.

Victims may have other options if they do not know the perpetrator or law enforcement cannot locate them. Parties involved are:

  • Banks;
  • Credit card companies;
  • Credit bureaus;
  • Merchants who process credit card transactions;
  • Employers; and
  • Most likely, any other business that had possession of and may be responsible for the stolen information.

According to state laws and the circumstances of the case, a person may be able to sue any of these parties:

Penalties for Identity Theft

In some cases, identity theft is also a state crime. If convicted of identity theft, a defendant may face the following penalties:

  • Imprisonment;
  • Fines;
  • Probation;
  • Restitution;
  • Conversion;
  • Punishment for any related crimes (e.g., mail or credit card fraud); and
  • Forfeiture of any personal property used to commit or gain from the crime.

Protecting Myself Against Identity Theft

Keeping your bank and credit card information secure is the best way to protect yourself from identity theft.

You should get into the habit of following these routines:

  • 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 If My Identity Has Been Stolen?

It is important to contact the police if you are a victim of identity theft. The police will forward your case to the District Attorney's office if there is sufficient evidence to prosecute the perpetrator. Inform your bank and credit card companies of the problem as soon as possible. It may even be a good idea to freeze or close the accounts.

How Much Can I Sue for Identity Theft?

It may be possible for the victim to sue in civil court if they know or the police can locate the person responsible for the identity theft.

The victim may be able to recover the following if the lawsuit is successful:

  • Compensatory damages: This is the most common type of damages award issued and will cover financial losses caused by the crime.
  • Punitive damages: In rare and extraordinary instances of identity theft, a victim may be able to claim punitive damages. Besides providing additional funds to the victim, punitive damages are designed to punish and deter the defendant from committing future offenses.
  • Emotional damages: If the victim suffered emotional distress (e.g., anxiety or depression) due to the theft, they might be able to recover emotional damages. However, it is often very difficult to obtain these damages.
  • Injunctive relief: Injunctions are court orders that require a defendant to take or refrain from a certain action. A court can order a defendant to apologize, notify persons about the data exposure, and possibly release the victim from financial liability.

However, in a criminal case, the goal is to punish the defendant. As a result, any fines the defendant is ordered to pay will go directly to the federal or state governments. However, in some cases, the victim may be able to request restitution. As a result of the crime, the defendant will have to compensate the victim for any out-of-pocket costs.

How Can A Lawyer Help Me With My Identity Theft Issues?

Identity theft is a serious crime punishable by steep fines and possible jail or prison time. If you suspect that you or a loved one have stolen your identity, you should contact the police immediately. Also, you should get an identity theft lawyer for guidance and representation. An attorney can help you sort out your claim to obtain the appropriate relief according to the laws of your state. You may be able to sue the person who stole your personal information if you are the victim of identity theft.

It is highly recommended that you contact an identity theft lawyer because of the potential complexity of your case. Only an attorney can analyze the facts of your case and determine whether and how you can sue for identity theft. Besides advising you of your rights, an attorney can explain the relevant legal issues and help you recover damages.