Identity theft is targeting younger victims and still a growing crime according to the Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book, recently released by the Federal Trade Commission. Not surprisingly, the age of the victims is dropping each year as younger consumers increasingly shop online without properly protecting their personal information. It seems the younger generation, though raised on personal computers, lacks the street smarts needed to match the identity thieves’ techniques.
Most surprising are the FTC’s recommended solutions for restoring your identity after a theft occurs. With two million victims every year – and growing – you would think the FTC would advise consumers to do more than merely report identity thefts and place initial fraud alerts. Yes, a fraud alert is an important step in the process but much more needs to be done. Reporting the crime to the FTC as they recommend is just an exercise in futility, doing nothing to actually help the victim restore their stolen identity.
Most important in reporting identity theft is the method by which the identity restoration is approached. There are several critical legal issues involved with reporting identity theft that if done improperly can have disastrous results for the consumer. For example, if consumers fail to include certain documentation or use the correct language in their communications with creditors and debt collectors they can be held liable for identity theft debt. The same problem arises when consumers try to remove identity theft debt from credit reports. Using the wrong language or taking the wrong approach in dispute or challenge letters will result in denials to investigate or delete the information. At a minimum the process of identity restoration will be delayed by failing to take the proper steps.
In addition to the financial ramifications, identity theft can also be emotionally devastating to the victims. Many victims of identity theft report symptoms of emotional distress similar to victims of violent crime. Restoring the consumer’s identity after a theft occurs simply adds to the stress these victims face.
The best advice to consumers is to report identity theft correctly and carefully. If consumers are unsure how to do so or if they are a victim of criminal identity theft they should contact an experienced consumer protection attorney who can walk them through the process.