What Does an Identity Theft Attorney Do?
Identity theft is the type of crime that can cause significant damage that lingers for many years, especially when it results in a negative credit history or reputational harm. Because of this, it's important to take immediate action to protect yourself if you find that your identity has been stolen.
Fortunately, there are many resources that can help you recover from identity theft and protect your identity in the future. Identity theft attorneys are one such resource. These attorneys have experience with protecting the rights of identity theft victims and also understand the rights and remedies that may be available to you under federal and state laws.
What Is Identity Theft?
Identity theft and identity fraud are often used interchangeably. However, while identity fraud refers to a broad category of crimes involving the use of false identification, identity theft is a form of identity fraud that specifically involves the use of someone else's personal information.
Identity theft is defined under federal law as the knowing transfer, possession, or use of "a means of identification of another person" without any lawful authority and in connection with an activity that would violate federal law or would constitute a felony under state law.
There are a variety of methods that identity thieves use to acquire personal information. Some of the more common methods include:
- Stealing wallets or purses
- Dumpster diving for discarded mail or other records
- Stealing mail from the mail box or redirecting your mail to a different address
- Telephone scams
- Eavesdropping or surfing over your shoulder in public
- Data breaches of financial institutions or major retail companies
- Internet scams
The FBI also provides additional information about various identity theft and identity fraud schemes currently in use.
How Can An Identity Theft Attorney Help You?
The task of recovering your identity and clearing your name can be challenging and time consuming and, especially in the immediate aftermath, often requires:
- Filing a police report
- Filing a report with the Federal Trade Commission
- Contacting financial institutions to initiate fraud alerts or close accounts
- Contacting credit bureaus to remove fraudulent information from a credit report
- Contacting creditors or debt collection agencies
An identity theft attorney has experience communicating with such entities and also understands their legal obligations to cooperate with you. Also, if you retain an identity theft attorney, these entities, particularly debt collection agencies, will be prohibited from contacting you directly.
Identity theft attorneys can also advise you of all of the rights and the remedies available to you under federal and state law. Under federal law, for example, a victim of identity theft has a right to restitution not just for the actual harm incurred but also for the time spent trying to fix such harm. Many state laws provide additional remedies to victims, such as the ability to file suit against the perpetrators and recover damages. In Florida, victims of theft can not only file suit, but can also recover triple the amount of actual damages incurred. An identity theft attorney can advise you of such rights as well as any relevant statutes of limitations.
What to Do If You Contact An Identity Theft Attorney
If you contact an attorney to assist you with an identity theft matter be sure to:
- Confirm the scope of representation: You’ll want to know whether he or she will be limited to communicating with relevant entities to correct your records or whether he or she will prepare and file a complaint and represent you in Court.
- Ask about their experience: You will want to know whether they have handled cases like yours and, if so, how many cases and what was the end result of those cases.
- Confirm the fee arrangement: You should ask about the fee arrangement, specifically whether your arrangement will be based on a contingency fee, a flat fee or an hourly fee, what rates you will be charged and whether a retainer will be required.
- Review the written representation agreement: You’ll want to ensure that you have a representation agreement in writing, but make sure you review it carefully before signing.
For more information on identity theft generally and steps you can take to protect yourself, see FindLaw's "Identity Theft" section or the tools and resources provided by the federal Office for Victims of Crime. The U.S. Department of Justice website also has an Identity Theft Quiz to help you determine whether you are taking the appropriate steps to safeguard your identity.
If you’ve been the victim of identity theft or have questions about how to best protect yourself, you should contact a consumer protection attorney.