The holidays often involve friendly parties exchanging gifts. During the holiday season, many individuals will receive gifts from friends, coworkers, family members, and even strangers. Some of these gifts may include electronics, gift cards, jewelry, and phone calls from a credit card company inquiring about the validity of suspicious charges. Being the victim of identity theft or financial crimes is one way to sour the holiday experience. Every victim of identity theft during the holidays should know five things.
1) Being a victim of identity theft should not entail long-term financial losses
When suspicious charges appear on a credit card or when unknown accounts begin appearing on a credit report, it is easy to become angry. Having a debt card swipe on a purchase of less than ten dollars kicked back for insufficient funds because a thief drained your bank account can be shocking and embarrassing. Playing phone tag with various credit agencies and banks can be a small nightmare. Victims may feel as though the perpetrators have been enjoying the holiday season with their money.
In reality, it will be either the bank’s money or the victim merchant’s money. Resolving the issue from the identity theft victim’s perspective will require a police report, a few affidavits, and an investigation into the offense. In most cases, the identity theft victim will be compensated for the losses by their financial institutions or credit card companies. Federal law limits the end victim’s liability for identity theft to 50 dollars, and most companies will not hold the end consumer responsible for even that amount.
2) Many perpetrators of identity theft know the victim
It is appalling to think that a close friend or family member may be responsible for stealing one’s financial information, but it happens. Criminal behavior attracts the lazy and the unintelligent alike, and many perpetrators will be entrusted with access to a friend or family member’s financial information. If a victim suspects that someone entrusted with their information may be responsible for the charges, they should relay that information to the credit card company and to the police. The perpetrators will usually deny the offense, but video cameras at retail locations, shipping addresses, and internet protocol addresses at online retailers do not lie.
3) Victims should check their credit reports after any suspicious activity
Identity theft is a massive underground business. While previous generations of criminals resorted to mugging business owners for the nightly drop or breaking into homes to steal valuables, modern criminals are turning to the Internet to buy and sell information. If the card itself was skimmed, the damage may be limited to that card. However, sensitive information such as the victim’s identity, mother’s maiden name, and bank account information may have been stolen. When a victim receives notice of unauthorized charges on his or her debit card, he or she should immediately check their credit reports and monitor them for a few months after the offense. If more sensitive information was stolen, victims may see false bank accounts and credit cards appearing under their names.
4) Police officers do investigate financial crimes
Some victims of identity theft may not report the crimes to their police department out of a belief that the police are useless and will do nothing. While it is true that clearance rates for identity theft are extremely low, victims should obtain a police report for three reasons:
First, many financial institutions will require a report before reversing charges over a certain threshold. Second, a police report helps to initiate a paperwork trail in the event that a fraud investigator gets credible leads on who the perpetrator may be. Third, a police report involves an interview with a law enforcement officer. Police officers are experienced in handling crime victims and will often ask victims questions regarding relevant issues that the victims had not considered.
Many victims of identity theft will mentally run through scenarios involving situations in which they disclosed their sensitive information with malevolent strangers in hooded sweatshirts lurking over their shoulder or handed their financial details over to suspect bankers. In fact, identity thieves often never contact their victim. In a digital age, customers will provide banks, credit card companies, mortgage lenders, car dealerships, and various other organizations with large quantities of sensitive personal information.
Like any commercial supply chain, stolen financial information proceeds through a channel involving criminals who specialize only in certain behaviors. Some criminals will skim or hack servers and resell the information in bulk. Other criminals will resell the information. End criminals will often buy the information in bulk and victimize many individuals at the same time. The perpetrators want the money or social security number to camouflage their identity; the actual victim is rarely more than a name on a screen.
Whether you’re talking to the best criminal attorney in Virginia or California, they will agree that thieves can accomplish identity theft either by working at a specific location, paying an employee who works at a location, physically stealing documents from the location, or compromising servers and electronically stealing documents from the location. Identity thieves may also exploit innocent websites to add spyware onto the visitors’ computers, which can record keystrokes and login information on banking web sites. Many identity thieves will then resell the information to other thieves who intend to use it.
In short, victims may be asked or ask themselves whether they could have done anything to prevent the theft. The answer is “probably not.” Covering the keypad while entering any pin numbers to prevent shoulder surfing and skimming attempts is still a good idea, of course.
Identity theft can come as a blow to victims particularly during a jovial time of year. Victims must notify the relevant financial institution of any unauthorized activity, close the account, obtain a police report, fill out an affidavit to the effect that the charges are unauthorized, and monitor their credit for any unusual activity. Identity theft victims should understand that they have rights and that the stresses associated with the fraud will pass. Victims should take solace in the fact that most criminals are eventually caught and sent to jail, even if the charge will not be for this specific offense.
A former news journalist, Ann Bailey posts this list of reminders about financial loss due to identity theft. While it may be too late for the victim to stop a theft already suffered, the firm of Price Benowitz says that asking the best criminal attorney in Virginia can still be beneficial. The firm has extensive legal experience representing and understanding the methods and minds of suspected identity hackers.