Identity Theft

We have experience in defending clients who have suffered identity theft.  Our primary focus is on the collection and litigation stage resolution, not the initial dispute with the original creditor.  We have a variety of services to assist you as well as advice on how to self dispute and tips on when to bring us in if you choose that option.


  • Preparing you for the initial dispute with the original creditor
  • Taking over the dispute once it goes to collections or a lawsuit if filed
  • Settling or litigating the matter to resolution
  • Suits for damages under consumer protection laws


  • The initial dispute itself with creditors directly.  This is primarily due to the time intensive nature and expense, we just don’t recommend that you use us for this.  We instead can cost efficiently prepare your dispute letters and give you a roadmap of how to dispute on your own.


  • If you don’t defend and dispute it!  This is a bit like being accused of murder but not claiming self defense.  Identity theft is a defense that you must allege and take all reasonable steps to dispute.  Disputes must be in writing, though we recommend both calling and writing.
  • If you don’t report it.  Without a police report, FTC report, and providing information on the how and why of the breach occurred, generally it will be hard or impossible to claim ID theft as a defense.
  • If you authorized it.  If you add someone to your account, you are considered to have authorized them to charge.  If they exceed the limits you set, that is not a defense to the collection, but rather a suit against the person for exceeding the limits.

See below for a longer explanation of the dispute process, self service advice, and more specifics on how we can assist.  If you need our help, give us a call at 206-535-2559.

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.

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 to 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.

When are you liable?

There are a variety of identity theft methods.  They range from the old Nigerian prince scam to catfishing.  They also include hacking to directly take over accounts or gain information to make new accounts.  In general, liability occurs when there is authorization or when there appears to be authorization.

There are also consumer protections under  the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (15 USC §1693) and Regulation E of Federal Reserve Board (12 C.F.R. Part 205), that may limit liability.

Proving Identity Theft

There are many ways to prove it, some better than others.   Below is a brief list of common ways to prove that you are not liable.

  1. Mass breach notification– Typically you will get a letter explaining that the account was compromised which can be used as a basis to support the dispute..
  2. Alibi evidence– If there is a time/date/location of a purchase, you can use work records, travel logs, location data from your phone, and other evidence to dispute that you were not there to make the purchase.  The creditor may argue that you gave someone else access but that is an issue for a judge/jury to decide.
  3. Pattern & Type of Purchases– If your pattern of purchase varies significantly from the fraudster, that can be used as a defense.  For example, if every account you have contemporaneously gets maxed out with gift card purchases, that is a good defense.
  4. Pattern of payments on the account– Sometimes a fraudster will actually pay on the account they created using your information to let the scam play longer and make more money.  It is usually easy to prove you had nothing to do with the account used.
  5. ISP of purchase or transaction doesn’t match yours and is in a different location– In this situation, your home ISP wills imply not match any docusign, purchase location, or other data for remote transactions.

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
  7. Dispute letter for collection agencies and lawfirms

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.

CALLING IS NOT ENOUGH.  Consumer laws require written dispute.  So even if you call, send a copy of the below letter.

Sample Letter to Dispute with the Bank or Credit Furnisher


[Your Name & Address]

[Name & Address of Creditor]

[Re: Unauthorized Charge Dispute, Your Account Number]

I am writing to dispute a fraudulent charge or charges on my account as listed below. I did not make or authorize this charge and may have been the victim of identity theft. I am requesting that:

List of disputed charges:

(1) description/amount of charge (Walmart, 599.99, 1/2/2022)

(2) repeat for all disputed charges

These requests are being made pursuant to the Fair Credit Billing Act’s amendments to the Truth in Lending Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1666-1666b, 12 C.F.R. § 226.13. See also 12 C.F.R. § 226.12(b).

I have enclosed copies of supporting documents as evidence that these charges are fraudulent. Please investigate this matter and correct the billing error as soon as possible.


[Your name & signature]

Include as attachments generally: the itemized statements with each charge highlighted that you are disputing, any relevant police or FTC report, and any other documentary evidence.  Send CERTIFIED (return receipt not required, just confirmation that the post master made the delivery).

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 a 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.

7. Disputing with a collections agency or law firm that has filed suit

  1. Call us immediately to see what your rights are
  2. If you wish for us to handle the dispute, discuss that with us.  We have the advantage of being able to contact opposing attorneys directly via direct email as well as being able to escalate to senior collectors and managers at collectors.  Given that we regularly defend and litigate these issues, they will understand that there are consequences for not investigating the matter.
  3. If you prefer to do the dispute on your own, we have a free form below.  Send it to the collection agency, law firm, or attorney trying to collect.  This is not a general dispute letter for using with the original creditor but rather a specific form for disputing in the collection/litigation phase.

Identity Theft Dispute Letter for Creditors


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!