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At best, having your identity stolen can be a major inconvenience. At worst, it can upend your life and cause serious, long-lasting financial consequences. An identity thief can do tremendous damage to your credit report and generate fraudulent debts and accounts.
Resolving and managing an identity theft crisis can be challenging and overwhelming, especially if credit bureaus and debt collectors refuse to honor your rights. If your identity has been stolen, our Salt Lake City identity theft lawyer at Ayres Law Firm can assist you with the recovery process and help you pursue legal action to recover damages. Our team also represents those accused of identity theft in criminal defense cases.
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Utah law formally refers to identity theft as “identity fraud.” Identity fraud occurs when an individual deliberately fraudulently uses or intends to fraudulently use another individual’s “personal identifying information,” regardless of whether that person is living or deceased.
“Personal identifying information” can include an individual’s:
- Social Security Number (SSN)
- Personal Identification Number (PIN)
- Written or electronic signature
- Photographic representation
- Driver’s license
In practice, identity fraud occurs when a person purports to be someone else by exploiting their personal information. If someone claims to be you to obtain or leverage some sort of benefit, such as your credit card or funds in your checking account, they have effectively “stolen” your identity, and you are most likely a victim of identity fraud under Utah law.
What To Do When Your Identity Has Been Stolen
You will need to take quick and decisive action when you discover that one or more of your accounts has been compromised and your identity may have been stolen. The longer you wait to address a breach, the more damage the identity thief can cause.
In addition to seeking legal representation, you should immediately contact the following entities when you believe your identity may have been stolen:
- Credit card companies. If the breach included the theft of one or more of your credit cards, you should immediately alert your credit card company and review recent transactions for any suspicious activity. Your credit card company should be able to freeze your current card, remove any unauthorized charges, and issue you new cards as necessary.
- Credit bureaus. Request that a fraud alert be placed on each of your credit reports. You can then review the current details of your reports for any unauthorized new accounts or other fraudulent activities.
- Banks. Identity thieves may attempt to drain one or more of your accounts or fraudulently open new accounts. Inform your banks of a possible breach and ask that your accounts be frozen until the situation has been resolved. If checks have been stolen, you can ask that transactions involving the impacted check numbers be halted. If one or more accounts have been compromised, you will need to obtain new account and routing numbers and modify any direct deposits associated with the accounts. If an ATM card or debit card is stolen, you must report the theft as soon as possible to limit your potential maximum loss.
- Fraud departments of creditors. In addition to your bank and credit companies, you should also inform the fraud departments of each of your major creditors of a possible breach, including your cable company, utility providers, and cellphone company.
- Law enforcement. File a formal police report with your local law enforcement agency and obtain a copy of the report. Depending on the circumstances, law enforcement may be able to conduct an investigation and identify the thief. This document may also be necessary to removing unauthorized charges or resolving other unauthorized transactions.
After you have taken initial steps to stop the actions of the identity thief, you will need to file another official report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). An FTC Identity Theft Report entitles you to valuable rights when communicating with debt collectors and credit bureaus. Our Salt Lake City identity theft attorney can help ensure you take all of the appropriate steps in the wake of a breach.
Learning that an identity thief has damaged your credit report and racked up thousands of dollars in fraudulent debt can be terrifying, but fortunately, victims of identity fraud are generally granted powerful financial protections. Federal and state laws both work to limit your financial liability when your identity is stolen. So long as you promptly file reports with the relevant authorities and entities, you will generally not be held responsible for accounts or purchases that you did not authorize.
When your identity is stolen, you have the right to:
- Obtain free copies of your credit reports. You have the right to review your reports from the three major credit bureaus when you suspect one or more of your accounts have been compromised. Credit bureaus will often try to sell you premium services, but understand you are entitled to a complimentary report in these situations.
- Place fraud alerts on your credit reports. The major credit bureaus are required to place a 1-year fraud alert on your report when requested. While active, this alert requires the bureaus to verify the identity of anyone attempting to apply for credit in your name. If you submit an FTC identity theft report, you can place an extended fraud alert that lasts for as many as 7 years. Under the extended alert, creditors must directly contact you and verify your identity before issuing credit.
- Institute a credit freeze. If an identity thief is actively abusing your personal information and opening new accounts, you can order the major credit bureaus to freeze your credit until the situation has stabilized.
- Dispute and remove fraudulent activity from your credit reports. If negative credit activity was the result of identity fraud, you can dispute the information by submitting a formal letter with a copy of your FTC Identity Theft Report. The credit bureaus will conduct an investigation and remove any fraudulent information from your report.
- Procure fraudulent application information submitted in your name. If an identity theft attempts to open accounts in your name, creditors must provide copies of the original application materials when you provide your FTC Identity Theft report.
- Prevent creditors from reporting fraudulent debts. An identity thief may generate substantial debt without your knowledge. A creditor or collection agency may eventually contact you about the debt and threaten to report it to the credit bureaus. You can block debt collectors from reporting debts associated with fraudulent accounts by sending them your FTC Identity Theft Report.
Legal Penalties and Remedies for Identity Fraud in Utah
Many modern identity thieves operate through the Internet and can be extremely difficult to track down. When a viable suspect can be identified, local law enforcement can choose to bring criminal charges.
In the state of Utah, identity fraud can be charged as a third-degree or second-degree felony. Identity fraud is a third-degree felony If the crime involved the theft of elements valued at less than $5,000. A conviction can result in a prison sentence of up to 5 years and a maximum fine of $5,000.
Identity fraud is a second-degree felony if the crime involved the theft of elements valued at $5,000 or more. A conviction can lead to a maximum prison sentence of 15 years and a fine of up to $10,000.
Utah also requires that convicted identity thieves appropriately compensate their victims in most situations. This will typically involve covering any direct financial losses, legal fees, and time spent managing damaged credit reports.
Our Salt Lake City identity theft lawyer at Ayres Law Firm provides vigorous representation to individuals facing these serious charges. We also assist victims with pursuing legal action against entities whose negligence resulted in identity fraud. Our team can evaluate the specifics of your case and determine what legal remedies may be available to you.
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