Identity theft has become all too common. In 2017, there were 16.7 million victims of identity fraud, according to Javelin Strategy & Research’s report “2018 Identity Fraud: Fraud Enter a New Era of Complexity.” The research organization noted that not only is this a record high, but fraud schemes often target one person across several organizations. This complexity can lead to more significant financial losses and make it more difficult for the victim to recover. It also means its more important than ever for you to know whether you can file suit after being the victim of identity theft yourself.

What is identity theft? 

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Identity theft takes place whenever any other person uses your personal identifying information, such as your name, bank account numbers, credit card, or Social Security Number (SSN), without your permission. Typically, someone else will use your personal information to fraudulently obtain money, goods, or services.

Common examples of identity theft include someone using your:

  • Credit or debit card to order items online;
  • Driver’s license while committing a crime;
  • Personal information to open up a new credit card in your name;
  • Personal information to obtain a loan in your name.

What you should do after identity theft

If you believe you have been the victim of identity theft, the first step is to file a report with the police. This can be important if you need to deal with creditors, collection agencies, and credit reporting companies in the future.

The second step is to inform any bank or credit card that was impacted by the fraud. You need to notify the institution of the fraudulent transactions so that it can open an investigation. This is essential to ensure you are not held liable for any fraudulent charges.

Third, you should improve your online protections. Use two-factor authentication whenever possible. Updated your passwords, and make sure that each password is a complex mix of numbers, letters, and symbols.

The fourth step is to contact an experienced attorney to help you understand your rights and legal options.

Additionally, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission provides information and resources on how to report and recover from identity theft.

Criminal laws regarding identity theft

There are both federal and state criminal laws against identity theft. Your situation may lead to federal charges if the offender’s conduct crossed state lines, occurred on federal property, or violated a specific federal statute. However, in most cases, the offender’s conduct will lead to state criminal charges. Every state has laws that cover identity theft, impersonation, and fraud.

You cannot control whether the offender is charged with a crime or not. To begin with, many local police departments lack the technology necessary to determine who committed the crime. You may never know who committed the fraud using your personal information. If the offender is caught, it remains up to the prosecutor to decide whether or not to file charges.

Your civil rights after identity theft

You typically cannot decide whether a person who stole and benefited from your identity faces criminal charges. However, you may have the option to file a civil lawsuit against the offender. Some states have passed laws creating a cause of action specifically based on identity theft. If your state does not have one, there may be a number of other theories of liability under which you can sue. Also, some states require offenders convicted of identity theft to pay restitution, and this order for restitution may be treated like a civil judgement.

Whether or not you can file a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator, you should still speak with a consumer protection lawyer. An experienced attorney can help you restore any legal and personal records that were altered due to the fraud. This can be particularly important if the perpetrator involved themselves with your real property. An attorney also will be helpful in dealing with creditors who believe you owe them money and collection agencies. You will need to prove you were the victim of identity theft to avoid these charges and to ensure your credit report and score are accurate.

When a business is at fault

Identity theft is often perpetrated by individuals. However, organizations like banks, credit bureaus, and other businesses may have played a part in the crime. If you believe a business is fully or partially at fault for your financial injuries, contact a lawyer today. Suing a business may be right for you, but it also is more complicated.

Whether or not you have the right to sue a person or business for identity theft depends on the offender’s actions and your state law. It is best to contact a local attorney as soon as possible to discuss your options.