Take the Report, Start the Investigation
The victim may or may not know the extent of the crime, or even if identity crime is a factor. Law enforcement agencies may or may not have the resources to start an investigation of these crimes. The goal of the initial victim interview in identity theft complaints is the same as in all criminal investigations – to verify that a crime has been committed and render immediate assistance to the victim, if needed. Secondarily, the interview will help the investigator to find out the facts known to the victim and witnesses that will identify and locate a suspect for arrest and prosecution.
At the initial interview or phone report, the victim will probably have very little factual information to support the complaint, but his/her thoughts and suspicions should be considered as part of the fact gathering. For example, the victim may use his/her credit or debit card five times a day to purchase gas, daily morning coffee and lunch, but a “funny feeling” about a clerk at a merchant he/she visited once in the last three months may be worth listening to. Later in the recovery process, the victim should have substantially more information.
In some jurisdictions, taking a report triggers an investigation. In others, a determination on how to proceed will be made based on the information in the report. In either case, it is important that departments of all sizes have the information necessary to initiate and complete an investigation when it is appropriate.
Law enforcement may want to begin by explaining the steps that they and the victim each take to help with the recovery and the investigation:
Victim’s To-Do List
- Place a fraud alert on your credit report at all three major credit reporting agencies (CRAs). You are entitled to get a credit report at no charge whenever you place a fraud alert. Technically, reporting to one of the three CRAs should be enough, because the first one contacted is required to notify the other two. However, if you have not received a written response from all three within 7 - 10 business days, you should contact any that have failed to contact you.
- Check the credit report that you get for free when you place the fraud alert. Look for new accounts that you did not open, renewed activity on dormant accounts, as well as any variations to your name, address, place of employment, and Social Security number. In addition, look in the credit inquiry section for recent checks on credit. This can give law enforcement vital clues as to the current acts of the identity thief.
- Contact your existing creditors’ fraud departments alerting them to the crime and misuse of your accounts and, for credit cards, ask them to change your account numbers. Closing accounts can damage credit ratings, and the better avenue may be to change credit card account numbers. However, when the thief is able to continue to pretext the institution and obtain your new account numbers, it may be better to close the account and open a new account at a different institution.
- Contact companies where the thief opened new accounts in your name and ask them to close the accounts and absolve you of the debts.
- Maintain log of contacts with creditors and financial institutions. A sample log sheet can be found at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/resources/forms/chart-course-action.pdf.
- Place a security freeze on your accounts (if you do not think that fraud alerts provide enough protection).
- File an online complaint at the FTC and print out an Identity Theft Victims’ Universal Complaint to help you develop an Identity Theft Report and to assist law enforcement in determining if your case is part of a larger conspiracy. Visit https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov or http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/consumers/filing-a-report.html.
- In your FTC complaint, list all inaccurate information on your credit report that was caused by the identity crime, such as unauthorized accounts, and the institution and billing address associated with the account. Also list what you know about how and where the thief used your information, anything you know about the thief, and any events or incidents where/when your personal information might have been compromised.
- Bring your printed FTC Universal ID Theft Complaint to your local law enforcement agency, sign it in the presence of an officer, and ask the officer to sign it and put your report number on it.
- Send a written dispute letter and a copy of your Universal ID Theft Complaint with your police report attached to the companies where your identity has been used or impacted, such as the credit reporting agencies, the companies where accounts were opened in your name or the thief misused your accounts, and debt collectors who have contacted you. Sample letters can be found at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/tools.html at and www.privacyrights.org.
Some victims are not able to do this work on the Internet. Officers should inform victims of the toll-free phone numbers used to place fraud alerts at the three credit reporting agencies:
Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
Victims can file a complaint with the FTC using the online complaint form; or by calling the FTC's Identity Theft Hotline, toll-free: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338); TTY: 1-866-653-4261; or by writing the Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580.
To better understand requirements affecting victims' recovery process, please visit the FTC’s document, Take Charge: Fighting Back Against Identity Theft http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/idtheft/idt04.shtm.
Victims should also be referred to the IACP/Bank of America Victim Recovery Toolkit available at http://www.idsafety.org/?fa=resources.