Groundhog Day AGAIN? Why, it seems like the last one was just yesterday …
Of course, I’m referring to the classic Bill Murray romantic comedy. Bill plays a TV weatherman covering Punxsutawney Phil‘s annual moment in the sun (or the shade). The “next” day, the hapless reporter discovers that every day is Groundhog Day, over and over again.
But if there’s anything worse than being the same person on the same eternal day, it’s being a different person EVERY day. That’s what it’s like if you’re a victim of Identity Theft — and it’s neither romantic nor a comedy.
If someone steals your name, birth date, social security number and so on, you could find yourself on the wrong end of a lawsuit when creditors try to collect the debts the thief has run up. Meanwhile, your hard-earned credit score could take a big hit.
Even before you contact an attorney, there are a few things you should do yourself.
1. Above all, file a police report. Some stations let you file online, but if that’s not an option, speak in person to an officer or deputy and let them know that the law requires you to file a report. (And here we should digress: one peculiarity of some identity theft laws is that you are not defined as a “victim” of identity theft until you file a police report! Yes, that’s a strange definition of the word “victim,” but it lets the authorities know you are serious and not just claiming that the dog ate your homework.)
3. Photocopy a recent utility bill with your current address on it.
4. Write a statement describing the particulars of the theft and your attempt to report it to the creditor and its attorney. For example, if your theft involved a credit card, give the credit card name and account number, and say how much was fraudulently charged and for how long. Also supply your social security number and phone number. If your address has changed since either a) your ID was issued, or b) some or all of the theft occurred, give the dates you moved and any additional interim addresses. Finally, above your signature, write: “I certify the representations made are true, correct, and contain no material omissions of fact.”
Got that? OK, gather it together with a cover letter stating that you are reporting the information as a “Request that Creditor be Notified of Identity Theft Under 15 USC Section 1681c-2“, which should also be the statement in the “re” line at the top of your letter template. Then send it all to the following addresses (accurate as of February 2012):
Equifax Security Freeze
P.O. Box 105788
Atlanta, Georgia 30348
Experian Security Freeze
P.O. Box 9554
Allen TX 75013
TransUnion Fraud Victim Assistance Department
P.O. Box 6790
Fullerton CA 92834
Also, send copies to the creditor (or, if the debt has been repackaged, to the debt collector who contacted you), and send yet another set of copies to any attorney who has contacted you in an attempt to collect the debt. At the bottom of the template copy (since every letter will be the same except for the address to which it’s sent), put a “cc” indicating all the places you’ll send the cover letter and copies.
Having done all the necessary “self-help” work, it may be necessary to contact an attorney. In fact, if you are being sued, you must answer the suit (usually within 30 days) and also, if advisable, file a cross-complaint with your answer. The cross-complaint enables you to request damages from the debt collector (sometimes including attorney fees) if the suit against you unreasonably goes forward, or if the attempts to collect the fraudulent debt don’t stop. Even if you’re citing federal law (for example, this one [pdf]), your cross-complaint can be filed in the state court hearing the suit against you; you also have the option to request that the suit be removed to federal court, and still include state claims.
This Groundhog Day, if you see your shadow in the form of someone pretending to be you, give the Mlnarik Law Group a call. We’ll whack those debt collectors back into the hole where they belong, but for you the winter of your discontent will be over.
- Jim Erickson, Associate Attorney
Mlnarik Law Group Inspires Policy Review by FTC and U.S. Dept. of Justice
Inspired by correspondence from the Mlnarik Law Group, the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection and the Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime are in the process of reviewing an important aspect of Identity Theft protocols.
In fact, the matter is so significant that the agencies intend to meet with both the International Association of Chiefs of Police and also Experian (one of the Big Three credit reporting agencies). Together, they hope to address the issue raised by the Mlnarik Law Group: how and whether Identity Theft victims may file police reports online.
Credit reporting agencies require a valid police report in responding to claims of Identity Theft. However, there is some uncertainty as to whether an online report is valid, particularly given a preference that police reports include an officer’s badge number. Also, even though a given police department (for example, San Jose’s) posts an online warning that making a false report is a crime, this might not be considered as strong as the warning provided by a police officer in person.
Unfortunately, however, some victims complain that their local police department or sheriff’s office refuses to take their police report. Such complaints are especially troublesome given the fact that the legal definition of “Identity Theft victim” is not met in some states unless a victim makes a report.
This is a crucial aspect of Identity Theft policy in a digital world. The FTC agent who responded to the Mlnarik Law Group’s concerns is to be commended for so quickly taking such decisive action.