Identity Theft Laws

Identity theft laws arose because with modern technology and the attendant changes to the ways we live come new hazards and new crimes that have caused the creation of new laws.

One of the crimes to emerge with new virulence in this high-tech age is that of identity theft. However, it should be made clear that this is a crime that is as old as history itself. From Jacob stealing Esau's birthright, to Jean Valjean becoming the Mayor, Monsieur Madeleine, to illegal immigrants to the United States fleeing despots of Central America, there have been many different reasons for appropriating another's identity. The computer age has simply made the act very easy, lucrative and possible in proportions and in volumes never before imagined.

ID Theft Lady

As the name of the crime suggests, identity theft occurs whenever someone appropriates another's identity or portion of it and uses it to appropriate the victim's money, credit or other thing of value.

These crimes are particularly susceptible to abuse in an electronic environment because of the relative anonymity of online or telephone transactions. With nothing more than a credit card number, social security number or bank number, an unscrupulous person may be able to steal a victim's money or defraud unsuspecting banks or credit card companies by applying for and obtaining credit cards or credit lines.

But money is not the only goal of identity thieves. People may simply want a driver's license, passport, academic credentials, medical information or a credit history. With such things, people can enter or reside in the country illegally, or simply start lives over again.

Identity theft laws were created to protect you.

The occurrence of these sorts of crimes is growing steadily. Relatively scarce a half century ago, official estimates now place the occurrence of identity theft at nearly a million a year. In response to the growing concern and attendant losses to businesses and victims, many states have begun to enact legislation to protect the public.

To date, 37 states have responded with identity theft laws specifically making identity theft a crime. It should be noted that in all states, theft by whatever means is a crime. The purpose of these statutes is to especially punish people who steal parts of a person's personal identity such as private financial or other personal information.

In many cases, these statutes act as enhancements to existing laws. For example, in some states, people found guilty of theft under the Theft of Identity Statute will be automatically guilty of a felony, regardless of the amount stolen. All states have an established dollar amount, usually $1000, below which a theft becomes a misdemeanor. However, in a state without the statute, a person stealing the same amount of money using the same method may only be guilty of a misdemeanor.

There is considerable variation among the states on the particular provisions of the statutes. For example, Alabama and Kentucky have included provisions that make "trafficking" in identities or identity information illegal and state that possession of five or more identities creates a presumption that the person is guilty of trafficking.

Some states have identity theft laws that list various aggravating factors that will further enhance these crimes. For example, Florida provides for greater penalties if the crime is committed with public records, and Illinois enhances penalties if the crime is perpetrated against an elderly person.


1. Report the crime to the police immediately. Give them as much documented evidence as possible. Make sure you obtain a copy of your police report if the Police Department will take your report. Credit card companies, your bank, and the insurance company may require you to show the report in order to verify the crime. Some police departments have been known to refuse to write police reports on such crimes. Be persistent!

2. If your checks are stolen, notify your bank(s) of the theft at once. It is recommended that you cancel (CLOSE) your checking and savings accounts and obtain new account numbers. Ask the bank to issue you a secret password that must be used in every transaction. Put stop payments on any outstanding checks that you are unsure of writing.

3. To prove your innocence, you may be required to fill out fraud affidavits with banks and credit grantors where fraudulent accounts have been established in your name. There is no cost to file a fraud affidavit. In some cases, you might be asked to have affidavits notarized, which could become costly, however, it is a normal practice that banks and credit unions will not charge you for such service.

4. Immediately call all your credit card issuers. If your credit card was stolen, get replacement cards with new account numbers. Ask that the old accounts be processed as "account closed at consumer's request." (This is better than "card lost or stolen," because when this statement is reported to the credit bureaus, it can be interpreted as blaming you for the loss.) Follow-up in writing. This protects you in case of a dispute with the credit card issuer.

5. Call the fraud units of the three credit reporting companies--Experian(formerly TRW), Equifax and Trans Union. Report the theft of your credit cards or numbers. Ask that your accounts be flagged. Also, add a victim's statement to your report-THIS IS A MUST.


("My SOCIAL SECURITY CARD, ID, or DRIVER LICENSE has been used to apply for credit fraudulently. Contact me at 555-123-4567 to verify all applications.") Be sure to ask how long the fraud alert is posted on your account, and how you can extend it if necessary.

6. If you use an ATM card for banking services, get a new card, account number and password. Do not use your old password. When creating a password, avoid such commonly used numbers as the last four digits of your Social Security number and your birthrate. Do not record your password on any article or on your credit card. Keep it in a safe and secured place.

7. If you have had your checks stolen, checks are being passed using your name, and or your personal account information, or bank accounts set up fraudulently, report it to the following Companies:

  • National Check Fraud Center,

  • TeleCheck,

  • Certegy Check Services,

  • Global Payments Check Services,

  • Shared Check Authorization Network (SCAN)

8. The Secret Service has jurisdiction over financial fraud cases (18 USC 1029). This federal government agency usually does not investigate individual cases unless the dollar amount is high. The case must meet the current PROFILE.

9. Normally the amount must exceed $65,000 to $75,000 per case, depending on your location. To interest the Secret Service in your case, ask someone in the fraud department of your credit card companies and/or banks to notify the particular SECRET SERVICE agent they work with.

10. You may want to have your social security number changed if your number has become associated with bad checks and credit. Contact your local office of the Social Security Administration.

Caution: This step should be reserved for only the most extreme situations. You must be sure to notify all credit grantors and credit reporting bureaus of your new social security number.

11. Theft of the mail or using the mail to commit a crime is a felony.. Notify the Postal Inspector in your area if you suspect mail theft.

  • Review the Mail Fraud Statutes here.

  • Obtain a Mail Fraud Report Form here.

  • Locate a Postal Inspection Service Office near you.

  • Examples of Mail Fraud:

  • Your checks or your mail were stolen from your mail box,

  • A forged check sent to you through the mail,

  • You mailed a check to a individual or a company who obtained the funds fraudulently,

  • The US Mail Service was used to commit a criminal act.

12. If you have a passport, notify the passport office to be on the lookout for anyone ordering a new passport fraudulently.

13. Call your telephone, electrical, gas and water utilities. Alert them to the possibility that someone may attempt to open new service using your identification. Also contact your long distance company. You may need to cancel your long distance calling card if it has been stolen or if the account number has been accessed.

14. If someone has been using yours Driver License as identification on bad checks, you are advised to change your driver's license number. When requesting a new number from the Department of Motor Vehicles, you might be asked to prove that you have been damaged by the theft of your driver's license. You must be able to prove that your current driver license is being used in the commission of a crime. You may need to be persistent.

15. Contact the nearest office of the Consumer Credit Counseling Service for further advice on removing fraudulent claims from your credit report. Call 800-388-2227.

16. In dealing with the legal authorities and financial institutions, keep a log of all conversations, including dates and names. Send all correspondence by certified mail. Keep copies of all letters and documents. Provide your police report number to expedite reporting the crime. Always back up any phone calls with a letter.

17. Even though it may be costly, consider seeking legal counsel, especially if you have difficulty clearing up your credit history, or your case is complex and involves a lot of money. An attorney can help you recover from the fraud and determine whether your rights under various credit, banking, social security number and other laws have been violated.

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