What is Identity Theft?
With all the data breaches in the news, there is a lot of concern about identity theft and quite frankly a lot of confusion. So let’s first start by defining what “identity theft” really means. California law defines identity theft as the “unauthorized use of someone’s personally identifiable information to obtain credit, goods, services, money, or property.” Cal. civ. Code § 1798.92(b). Okay, but enough with the lawyer thing, what does that even 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 they have to have their whole life taken over to qualify as a victim of identity theft. That is not true. Even something as simple as an unauthorized purchase of a credit or debit card can qualify as identity theft. After all whose name is on the card they use to make that purchase – yours!
Are you a victim of identity theft?
Okay, so identity theft can actually be anything, but how do you know if you really are a victim of identity theft? There’s no perfect cut-and-dried answer to this, but there are some obvious signs:
1. You receive calls or letters from collection agencies for bills that do not belong to you;
2. You get letters from creditors telling you that you have been rejected for a recent credit card application or loan that you don’t recognize;
3. Your credit score takes an inexplicable nosedive; or
4. You start seeing tons of new questions on your credit that you don’t recognize.
Many of my clients tell me that they simply ignored the first few collection calls they received for accounts that didn’t belong to them. Please don’t! If you’re getting calls from people about accounts that don’t belong to you or if there’s something wrong with your credit report, investigate and get help. There are plenty of online resources for identity theft victims. Many of my clients can successfully solve their credit problems with a quick Google search. Others, however, often become frustrated with so much information available or hit a roadblock and become discouraged. Many would like to talk to a lawyer, but assume it will cost them an arm and a leg. That is rarely the case. Almost all attorneys offer free consultations and many attorneys offer legal assistance at no out-of-pocket cost. So if you feel overwhelmed, find a professional in your area, call them and take back your identity!
-Wayne Sinnett, Esq.