What Is Identity Theft and How to Tell If You’re a Victim?

What is Identity Theft?

With all the data breaches in the news, there’s a lot of concern about identity theft and frankly a lot of confusion. So let’s first start by defining what “identity theft” really means. California law defines ID theft as the “unauthorized use of another person’s personal identifying information to obtain credit, goods, services, money, or property.” Cal. Civ. Code § 1798.92(b). OK, but enough with the lawyer stuff what does that really mean?

Basically, if you use another person’s name or identity to get something in return (typically money) that’s ID theft! Many people think that they have to have their whole life taken over to order to qualify as victim of identity theft. That’s not true. Even something as simple as an unauthorized credit or debt card purchase can qualify as identity theft. After all whose name is on the card they’re using to make that purchase – yours!

Are You an ID Theft Victim?

OK OK so identity theft can basically be anything but how do you know if you’re really an ID theft victim? There’s no perfect one-size-fits-all answer for this but there are some obvious signs:

1. You’re getting calls or letters from debt collectors for accounts that aren’t yours;

2. You’re getting letters from creditors telling you that you were denied for a recent credit card application or loan you don’t recognize;

3. Your credit score takes an unexplained nose dive; or

4. You start seeing tons of new inquires on your credit that you don’t recognize.

A lot of my clients tell me that they just ignored the first few debt collection calls they received for accounts that weren’t theirs. Please don’t do that! If you have people calling you about accounts that aren’t yours or something is fishy with your credit report look into it and get help. There are tons of online resources for identity theft victims. Many of my clients are able to successfully resolve their credit issues by doing some quick research on Google. However, others often get frustrated because there is so much information out there or they hit a roadblock and get discouraged. Many would like to talk to an attorney but they assume that it’s going to cost them an arm and a leg. That’s rarely the case. Almost all attorneys offer free consultations and many attorneys offer legal help for no out of pocket costs. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed find a professional near you, call them and take your identity back!

-Wayne Sinnett, Esq.