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How to Protect Yourself from Criminal Charges When You’re a Victim of Identity Theft

Adding insult to injury doesn’t even begin to cover it. Victims of identity theft already have so much to deal with: restoring their credit, putting out fraud alerts, getting documents reissued.

But identity theft brings another risk, one that’s not always talked about. The risk that you’ll be arrested for a crime you didn’t commit because ID thieves used your identity while breaking the law.

Sometimes, the victim of ID theft gets accused of being the one who stole the identity!

Staying aware of this possibility can help you protect yourself.

#1) Understand what identity theft is.

You can’t call something a false accusation if you actually committed the crime. And good, well-meaning people sometimes casually violate ID theft laws without realizing what they’re doing. 

For example, if you use someone else’s identity to apply for a credit card or a loan, you’ve committed this crime…even if you had permission to do it. Because your friend isn’t the only one who has been impacted by this action. The creditor has too.

And you never know when your friend might turn on you and report it, either. Miss one payment, and that easygoing friendship could turn sour fast.

Being in possession of someone else’s information with intent to use it is another version of this crime. To be on the safe side, return any mail you get for someone else to the post office. Lack of intent can be a good defense, but it’s better not to be accused in the first place.

And, obviously, don’t commit the crime on purpose.

See also: 4 Possible Defenses for Wire Fraud.

#2) If there is a possibility your own identity has been stolen, handle it immediately.

It’s true that you might not know your identity has been stolen right away. But you should be checking your credit report on an annual basis. And if your purse or wallet are stolen, you should assume they’re after your driver’s license and other identifying information, and not the cash that few people carry in the first place.

Report the crime right away. Close down the credit cards, alert the DMV and make a police report. You can also go to IdentityTheft.gov, where you can report the theft, get an official FTC report which is often as good as a police report, get a plan for getting your identity back, and get pre-filled letters to send out to all important parties.

 If you had your social security card in your wallet, report it to the Social Security Administration. Be sure to get a copy and carry it with you everywhere, just like you’ll carry your new driver’s license. If the police come knocking because someone has used your personal information to commit a crime, it might prevent them from arresting you.

Once you know your identity has been stolen, run a records search on your own personal information periodically. If there are arrest warrants out for you or new companies in your name you’re going to want to contact the cops in the jurisdiction where these things are happening so you can shoot over a copy of your police report, putting them on notice that they need to look elsewhere for their culprit.

See also: 7 Signs You’re Under Federal Criminal Investigation.

#3) Retain a lawyer.

It may seem premature to retain a lawyer just because someone ran off with your information. But you should always remember it’s in the hands of a criminal who is likely to do criminal things with it.

Having a pre-existing relationship with a good attorney can be massively helpful if the police really do arrest you. And a private one is a better choice. For example, a private attorney has the time and resources to hire experts who can help clear your name. You can remain in close contact with your attorney and update him on all incidents so he’s prepared. 

See also: What Qualities Matter When Hiring a NY Lawyer for a Computer Crime?

With the right preparation, your lawyer may be able to get the charges dropped before the matter ever goes to trial.

With luck, reporting the crime will be enough. But when luck isn’t enough, it pays to be prepared.