What is identity theft?
With all the data leaks in the news, there is a lot of concern about identity theft and, frankly, a lot of confusion. So let’s start by defining what “identity theft” really means. California law defines identity theft as the “unauthorized use of another person’s personally identifiable information to obtain credit, goods, services, money, or property.” California. Civ. Code § 1798.92 (b). Okay, but enough with the lawyer stuff, what does that really mean?
Basically, if you use someone else’s name or identity to get something in return (usually money), that’s identity theft! Many people think that they have to take care of their entire lives in order to qualify as victims of identity theft. That is not true. Even something as simple as an unauthorized credit card or debt purchase can qualify as identity theft. After all, whose name is on the card they are using to make that purchase, yours!
Are you a victim of identity theft?
Okay okay, identity theft can be basically anything, but how do you know if you really are a victim of identity theft? There is no single perfect answer to this, but there are some obvious signs:
1. You receive calls or letters from debt collectors for accounts that are not yours;
2. You receive letters from creditors informing you that a recent loan or credit card application was denied that you do not recognize;
3. Your credit score inexplicably plummets; gold
4. You start to see tons of new inquiries about your credit that you don’t recognize.
Many of my clients tell me that they simply ignored the first debt collection calls they received for accounts that were not theirs. Please do not do that! If you have people calling you about accounts that are not yours or if there is something suspicious on your credit report, do your research and get help. There are tons of online resources for identity theft victims. Many of my clients can successfully resolve their credit problems by doing a quick search on Google. However, others are often frustrated because there is so much information available or they run into a roadblock and become discouraged. Many would like to speak to a lawyer, but assume it will cost them an arm and a leg. This is rarely the case. Almost all attorneys offer free consultations, and many attorneys offer legal help at no out of pocket costs. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, find a professional near you, give them a call, and get your identity back!
-Wayne Sinnett, Esq.