With the advancement of technology and ease of accessibility of information about each other, a very valid public concern is identity theft. Identity theft is not a novel phenomenon, and it is certainly on the rise. California law prevents it explicitly and there exists long-form legislation regarding the same. In this article, you learn all about what identity theft is, how to identify if you’re a victim of identity theft, California’s identity theft law, as well as about how to report identity theft.

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft or identity fraud can be summarized simply as any action that makes use of an individual’s data or identity deceptively, usually for economic gains. For example, the use of stolen checks, credit and debit cards, social security number fraud, etc.

Identity theft can insidiously creep up on you. Someone might have been making fraudulent use of your identity for a long time, but oftentimes people do not find out about it until much later, when much damage has already been done.

How Would You Know if Someone is Using Your Identity?

Though it’s not easy to identify, there might be some telltale signs that your identity has been stolen and is being misused. You might notice a few of these things:

  • Suspicious activities on your credit card, or your credit report being inaccurate.
  • Lost personal documents.
  • Missing, or extra physical mail.
  • More emails than usual.
  • Usual post or login activity on your social media accounts
  • Unfamiliar SMS codes

It is important to be mindful of your accounts and other financial records because often times identity theft occurs for the sole purpose of the scammer gaining access to your finances. Helpful habits that you can do to increase your chance of discovering identity theft early on can include:

  • Keeping a regular check on bank records, including bank balance, withdrawals, and deposits.
  • Be wary of any anomalies in your credit statement, such as expenditure you did not incur or sudden, huge spending.
  • Keep track of your bills and payments, especially when they are due and haven’t been paid.
  • Make sure you don’t give out your social security number freely.
  • Keep a check on tax returns and dues.
  • Make use of a credit monitoring service as identity theft protection.

Types of Identity Theft that Exist

Identity theft occurs in many forms, and fraudsters are creatively coming up with new types of scams on a daily basis. So to make a complete list would be impossible, but here are 5 forms of identity fraud that frequently occur:

  1. Financial Fraud: This is the most common form of identity theft and thus is one you should be the wariest of. This can take place in several ways. Fraudsters can hack into your bank accounts, misuse your credit, withdraw funds, or open up new bank accounts under your name. This kind of fraud is easy to spot since it shows up in your credit card bills and bank statements.
  2. Medical Identity Theft: This happens often, albeit less frequently than financial identity theft. You might find people using your name and identity for easier access to drugs, and medical services. For this, you have to be sure you have a good insurance agent and regularly review all medical claims.
  3. Criminal Identity Fraud: This refers to the phenomenon where an arrested person uses an alias, which is your identity. This is easily identifiable since it will probably end up with an encounter with the cops, or a court summons.
  4. Child Identity Fraud: This involves instances when someone uses a child’s identity and commits some kind of fraud. Parents must be wary with who they are sharing their kids’ information. In many cases, this kind of fraud is committed by your friends or relatives.
  5. Synthetic Theft: This is a new method of fraud, where people create fake identities based on constituent parts of other people’s real identities. For example, by using the name, credit details, and social security numbers of three different people. It is often hard to figure out since the repercussions can become chaotic and confusing. They can then use this persona to apply for loans or credit cards or commit other financial crimes.

Preventative Measures

You must also take preventative measures against identity theft. These might include:

  • Secure your SSN and don’t carry your SSN card around.
  • Use security features on electronics.
  • Install firewalls on your computer.
  • Create complicated passwords and ones that only you can figure out.
  • Use a VPN when using public wi-fi.
  • Shredding all documents containing sensitive personal identifiers.
  • Avoid clicking links in emails or websites unless you are 100% sure of their authenticity.
  • Do not use public computers to access sensitive personal information.

How does the California Identity Theft Act Protect You?

Under the California Identity Theft Act, California Civil Code 1798.93, a person may bring an action against a debt collector or bank to establish that the person is a victim of identity theft in connection with the debt collector or bank’s claim that the victim has some kind of obligation to them. The California Identity Theft Act also allows a victim of identity theft that is being wrongfully accused of a crime to avoid prosecution by showing that they are the criminal using the victim’s identity as an alias. If it is proven that the obligation was born out of identity theft, the victim will be absolved of any liability and may be entitled to damages, including $30,000 in statutory damages.

Civil Obligations

Civil obligations can range anywhere from a credit card that the fraudster opened in your name, to a mortgage that was opened in your name. To avoid any civil obligations that have been thrusted upon you by the fraudster, you will first need to dispute the obligations with the debt collector or bank that the obligation is owed to.

  • To do this, you will first need to file a police report or FTC Identity Theft Affidavit
  • Once you have this report, then you need to draft a dispute letter to the company explaining your side of the story and the facts that occurred. Sample letters are here.
  • Lastly, mail the letter with the police report or FTC Identity Theft Affidavit attached. NOTE, make sure the letter is sent via certified mail so that you can prove its delivery to the company.
  • Next, wait 30 days for the company to respond. If they do not absolve you of liability, then contact us for legal assistance here.

Criminal Obligations

In a case where your identity has been stolen to be used as an alias by the criminal, you will have to prove that it was not you that committed whatever crime is alleged. You might, for example, receive a court summons for a crime you did not commit. In such a case, you will have to get a certificate of identity theft. This is a complex legal process, which Barthel Legal can help you with.

This certificate can be obtained in two ways:

  • Informally: In some cases, you will be able to get the Certificate of Identity Theft from a court. This is just by consulting with (or petitioning) the judge at the time of a hearing when a guilty person is being tried. Depending on the court, a particular judge will determine whether you are entitled to a Certificate of Identity Theft. You need to ensure whether you would be allowed to speak with the judge in court (since you won’t have done any initial paperwork) about your case-specific problems.
  • Formally: You will need to file an original petition, after gathering documents and setting a date with a court clerk. You will likely file your Petition either with the clerk assigned to the judge who will hear your Petition or with the central intake clerk. You will receive a stamp from the clerk. This will be an assurance that your petition now lies with the court. Prepare for and attend the court hearing, after which your certificate will be issued to you.

Seeking Help

Facing identity theft can be a scary experience. Not only does it affect all your financial standings, but often also it can result in your being falsely accused of a crime. No matter the case, Barthel Legal is here to help you. We specialize in credit card fraud, debit card fraud, and unauthorized wire transfers from your bank account. Most importantly, we genuinely care about your protection and entitlement to be free from liability.

Not only are you entitled to not be free from obligations, but you may also be entitled to $30,000 in statutory damages. With Barthel Legal, we cover all the out-of-pocket expenses and do not get paid unless you do. Therefore, we always have our clients’ best interests at heart and will be there for you during this difficult time.

You can schedule a free consultation with us and gain our expert insight before moving forward. Contact our firm today and we will get you what you deserve soon after tomorrow!