Identity Theft

Identity theft is a very common problem.  We assist clients in defending against creditors attempting to collect on debts that they did not create.  Due to the time involved and the cost, we do not assist clients in the reporting phase of this process.  We assist in the legal resolution if a creditor will not resolve the issue outside of court.

Identity Theft

At Washington Debt Law, we have experience in fighting collection cases for debts that you did not authorize or where identity theft has occurred.  There are common law defenses, statutory defenses, counterclaims, and other techniques to resolve.  We can help you in the following two scenarios:

  1. A creditor has filed a summons and complaint against you where identity theft has occurred
  2. A creditor/collection agency is threatening to sue you where identity theft has occurred

Creditors have a duty to investigate the facts of a case before filing and there are internal processes for investigating fraud that must be met.  We can file discovery drill down on statements to show the impossibility of you making those purchases or that your signature does not match.  If we prevail, typically, the creditor must pay your attorney fees.

In some situations, usually where a family member/romantic partner/friend steals your information and you do not want to send them to jail, we can look to bankruptcy options.  Suing someone like this that has defrauded you is messy and it is often challenging to recover as they are likely broke or have hidden any money taken.  However, you are welcome to report them to authorities instead (or in addition to suing them) if you so choose.

We do not help with general disputes or in reporting of identity theft to authorities, credit bureaus, or institutions that you have accounts with.  We also do not handle the internal dispute process generally with your account issuers.  The reason we do not is because it is not cost effective to have an attorney at attorney rates to perform these services.  Generally, there are non-law firm organizations that can do this or better yet you can do this for free on your own with likely better results.  Below, we have provided helpful links, steps, and information in case you have been a victim of identity theft.

If a Collection Agency, Law Firm, or Attorney Seeks to Collect a Debt Caused by Identity Theft

  1. Call us immediately to see what your rights are
  2. Download this form, follow the steps, and send to the creditor that sued you.  This letter is for if you have a collection agency, law firm, or attorney trying to collect or are suing you, not for general dispute.

Identity Theft Dispute Letter for Creditors

Triage Steps if you are a Victim of Identity Theft

(Full explanation of each step below the list of helpful link- We do not Assist in these Steps)

  1. Assess the Extent of the Breach and the type of Identity Theft you are a Victim of and Pull Credit Report
  2. Report your situation to Police and the Federal Trade Commission
  3. Report your situation and begin the dispute process with each institution where a breach occurred
  4. For institutions where a breach has not occurred yet, proactively change passwords and/or issue new cards
  5. Contact credit reporting agencies- Consider issuing a fraud alert and/or credit freeze on your credit report
  6. Consider possible new drivers license or social security number if the breach is significant enough

Helpful Links

Department of Justice Identity Theft Page- Overview of Steps to Dispute

Federal Trade Commission- Identity Theft Reporting Page

 

1. Assess the Extent of the Breach, Identity the Type of Identity Thief, Pull Credit Report

You want to determine the type of breach first.  While security experts vary in the exact number and descriptions of the various types of breaches and classification of identity thieves, there simple approach is to determine if your active accounts have been breached or if the thief is using your identity to generate new accounts that you were not aware of.

Did the Identity Thief Breach your Active Accounts?  If this applies to you, likely there is a virus and/or an employee at a distant end sold your account information.  You will want to run anti virus software on all computers (work or personal) and phones that you use.  If you use the same password or close variations, recreate all passwords to have more variation and be more challenging to help limit future breaches.  Focus on immediately shutting down all accounts and contacting all affected creditors as time is of the essence.  Follow the other steps when time allows.  Do not use a potentially breached device to report if you can help it or at the minimum run your anti virus software first.

Did the Identity Thief use your Information to Make New Accounts?  This applies to not only financial accounts but to drivers license, medical accounts, apartment rentals, utilities, etc.  Some thieves are just trying to live off grid and just assume your identity.  Others use your information to make new accounts to grift off of until the account shuts down.  Many do both.  In this instance, try to gather your intel first and see if you can find identifying information on the thief before they cut and run that you can use to report to authorities.  While it is tempting to confront an identity thief, it is potentially dangerous and/or illegal to resort to self help so we cannot recommend it.  Begin taking steps to take back your identity as outlined below.  In extreme situations, it may require a new drivers license and/or social security number.

Pull a Credit Report (tri-merge with background, civil, criminal cases included recommended).  Free reports are not going to give you the full picture in all likelihood.  Try to get a tri-merge (all three bureau’s) as well as additional background information like civil and criminal cases.  Use the report to find addresses, accounts, and other information that you know does not match up with you.

2. Report your Situation to Police and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

The purpose of reporting is primarily to establish case numbers and as supporting evidence in your disputes with any institutions that has been affected by the breach of your identity.  The likelihood of the authorities being able to act, arrest anyone, or get funds back is extremely remote.  Identity Theft is a very low priority crime generally.  If, however, you are dealing with a low crime area with police that have a bit more free time, sometimes they will go check out an address that you can provide (again, very unlikely, but why not?).  In any case, reporting your situation to authorities help establish that you believe that you are a crime victim and that you did not commit the acts yourself.

The Federal Trade Commission is a good place to start.  It is a one stop shops with steps and processes to help you dispute.

Federal Trade Commission- Identity Theft Reporting Page

After reporting to the FTC, report to your local police department and possibly to police departments near any addresses you are not familiar with are.  When reporting to police, it is very important to follow the below steps:

3. Contact Breached Account Issuers to Report & Dispute

Each Account Issuer (Bank, Credit Card, Govt. Agency) will have a different reporting and dispute process.  It is important to be armed with your FTC and Police reports prior to contacting if possible as it saves time and formalizes the process early on.  If time is of the essence, such as in an active account breach, skip reporting to authorities and report the active fraud to shut down the account before more damage is done.

The step can often takes weeks if not months with and is almost universally completely frustrating.  Stick with the process and do not give up.  Giving up can result in something being sent to collections or a victim-blaming routine where they would have fixed it but you didn’t respond.

If a creditor decides to try to sue you upon debt you did not create or sends you to collections, we can help at that point but not before the dispute/appeals process plays out.

4. Contact Non-Breached Account Issuers to Report & Potentially Issue New Accounts/Cards

This is similar to step 3 above, however, it is not as much of a priority and much quicker to resolve.  For something like a credit card, its as easy as getting a new card issued usually.

5. Contact Credit Reporting Agencies- Consider Fraud Alert and/or Free on your Credit Report

You will want to send your police & FTC report to the bureaus.  Contact each one separately- Experian, Transunion, & Equifax.  If you are in active breach mode or if there is ongoing ID theft, consider a Fraud Alert and/or Freeze.  Dispute any charges that you did not make.

6. Consider possible new drivers license or social security number if the breach is significant enough

Some Identity Thieves are sophisticated enough to actually pretend to be you and then dispute like you are the thief.  There are true horror stories of this that can be found in both case law and in the internet.  This level of breach may require a new social, new driver’s license, and extreme techniques to resolve.

We are not set up or this level of breach and would refer you to a privacy right or other type of firm that focuses on recovery and control of identity.  At Washington Debt Law, we can work with you or a privacy rights firm on any collection lawsuits or threats of the same.

Questions?

If you are a victim of identity theft, while we do not help with the reporting and dispute process, our firm can help in defending against collection lawsuits.   If you are being sued upon debt that you did not authorize, call us today to see how we can help!