Identity crimes are often a new twist on crimes that local law enforcement officers have investigated before, such as fraud schemes, larcenies by deception, forgery, etc. These crimes are often furthered by use of stolen identities.
Commonly, victims find out they have been the target of identity thieves in one of several ways:
- They receive a notification from a collection agency.
- Their review of bank or credit account statements shows activity they didn’t have.
- They are turned down for credit.
- Routine review of their credit reports shows unexpected activity (e.g. new credit accounts they did not apply for).
- They receive bills for accounts they do not have or merchandise they did not order.
- They are arrested for a crime that they did not commit.
- They learn that someone filed for bankruptcy in their name.
The realization that their private lives have been violated may prompt victims to act immediately by calling their local law enforcement agency, often before they have looked further into the facts. They are likely to exhibit feelings of helplessness, fear and confusion. Some analyses note that the psychological damage caused by identity crime can be very similar to that of a victim of violent crime.
One common characteristic of many identity crime victims is often a limited understanding of their finances and financial instruments and how they work. For example, many banks issue debit cards with a credit card logo displayed on the card. Consumers may fail to recognize that the debit card is not a credit card, and resultantly it does not offer the same consumer protections as a credit card, which causes additional problems once the identity compromise has occurred.
Therefore, as the first officer to interview a victim of an identity crime, the first responder will be faced with many victim emotions and a noticeable lack of facts on which to base a complaint, much less to initiate an investigation. This toolkit will provide much of the knowledge required to investigate identity crimes, but like most police work, prior professional and personal life experiences and continuing education are just as important.
Law enforcement cooperation in assisting the victim is essential as the FCRA places strict victim assistance requirements on companies that are triggered by the victim’s detailed incident report from a local, state, or federal law enforcement agency (the FCRA calls this an “identity theft report.”). Victims have the right to recoup losses and damages following an identity crime. Making the companies legally responsible for assisting victims and restoring them to their pre-crime status is critical for recovering their losses.
That is why, for victims, an initial necessary step in their recovery is to file a report with the local law enforcement agency. Filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also greatly assists victims take advantage of these rights, and helps law enforcement coordinate investigative efforts.
By sharing the identity crime complaint with the FTC, the victim will provide information that can help law enforcement officials across the nation track down identity thieves and stop them. The FTC shares victims' complaints with other government agencies and companies for further action, as well as investigates companies for violations of laws the agency enforces. However, it is important to be aware that the FTC does not investigate individual identity crimes.
Complaints filed online at the FTC can be printed out into the Identity Theft Victims’ Universal Complaint Form (“Universal Complaint”). A Universal Complaint contains most of the details the victim knows about the crime. To file an online complaint and be able to print out a Universal Complaint, visit https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov.
The Universal Complaint, in conjunction with the police report, creates an “Identity Theft Report.” As mentioned earlier, an Identity Theft Report can entitle victims to certain protections related to recurring effects of these crimes. Victims can provide a printed copy of their Universal Complaint form to the law enforcement agency to incorporate into the police report.
Regardless of whether or not the victim takes action in filing with the FTC, having a police report is the essential step to set other elements of recovery and investigation in motion. Further, in 27 states, law enforcement is legally required to take the report. Even if your state law on identity crime does not contain a requirement to take the report, it’s your agency’s ethical and professional obligation to take one in order to start the investigation and assist the victim in restoring his/her identity and credit to pre-crime status.
Each officer must be aware of their own state laws regarding both the requirement of taking a report, and the scope of jurisdiction for identity crime. However, since access to relief granted under the Fair Credit Reporting Act and many states’ protections for identity crime require the initial taking of a report, officer should try to take a report wherever possible.
Even the smallest of cases can grow into major ID thefts, and the victim is utterly dependent on upon law enforcement officers’ willingness to take the report, regardless of whether or not the crime took place in their jurisdiction. A thorough initial report is also a major asset in supporting the future investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators.