Victims of criminal identity theft rarely know they are victims until they learn that there is a warrant out for their arrest or are arrested. Fortunately, court systems and police departments are aware that this type of identity theft occurs, making it possible for victims to clear their names.
What Is Criminal Identity Theft?
Criminal identity theft occurs when an individual gives another person's name and personal information to law enforcement authorities during a criminal investigation or at the time of arrest. Personal information includes a date of birth and social security number. This type of identity theft usually transpires when local authorities issue traffic or misdemeanor violations, but can also happen when an individual is arrested for financial identity theft, such as the misuse of credit cards.
This theft can have serious repercussions for victims. Not only is their name associated with a crime in local police precincts, but it may be placed into the National Crime Information center (NCIC) database, thereby identifying them nationwide as a criminal. Background checks by current or potential employers will reveal them as having a criminal record, which could prevent employment or result in their being fired. If the imposter appears in court and pleads guilty, but does not pay the fine or serve the jail time, the victim may find themselves subject to an arrest warrant. Similarly, if the imposter doesn't appear in court as directed by the citation, the victim may also find that there is a warrant for their arrest.
Theft can occur in both the state and federal levels. State law enforcement authorities and court systems handle local criminal identity theft, while the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Secret Service and Department of Justice handle federal instances.
Handling Criminal Identity Theft
If you have been a victim of criminal identity theft, the most important thing is to stop the theft and clear your name. Unfortunately, there is no specific, universal process for proving your innocence. Moreover, while state and federal authorities understand that this type of theft happens, they often do not expend much time and energy fixing the problem because of time constraints. This means that it is up to you, and maybe your attorney, to establish your innocence.
The first step is to gather all of the documentation you have about the theft and your innocence. You need the case or warrant number, your photo ID and any other information you have regarding the unauthorized use of your identity.
Next, contact your local police or FBI branch. Explain that you are a victim and ask how to proceed with clearing your name. Usually, the agency will have you visit their office so that they can inspect your photo ID, take your fingerprints for comparison and record your statement. They will use this information to compare your identity to the one they were provided by the imposter. Expect to spend several hours with the authorities, and bring along your attorney if you have hired one.
After the agency has confirmed that you were not the individual they arrested or cited, ask for a clearance letter or a certificate release and that they recall any warrants in your name. Try to obtain a letter or certificate as soon as possible, preferably immediately after your interview, to prevent being arrested in the future. Keep the letter or certificate with you at all times. Recalling warrants can take several weeks.
At this point, your name will be identified as the imposter's alias. If the imposter is known, their name will appear on the warrants and citations. If their name is not known, they will be identified as "Jane Doe" or something similar.
Once the authorities have distinguished you from the imposter you should file a lawsuit in the applicable criminal court (state or federal) to determine your factual innocence. Supply the court with all of the information you have regarding the theft as well as copies of the letter or certificate provided by law enforcement authorities. It may take several months to finalize your case.
Preventing Identity Theft
The best way to prevent criminal identity theft is to be aware of your surroundings and to protect your personal information. Do not supply your social security number to anyone unless they are a federal employee or it is absolutely necessary. Immediately contact the authorities if you believe that your personal information has been misappropriated.