Guest blogger: Nat Wood, Associate Director, Division of Consumer & Business Education, Federal Trade Commission
At the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), we say that recovering from identity theft is easier with a plan. The same is true for responding to identity theft victims: it’s easier with a plan. Today, both victims and law enforcement can find roadmaps at IdentityTheft.gov, the government’s free, one-stop resource for reporting and recovering from identity theft.
The Department of Justice’s most recent statistics show that identity theft affected an estimated 17.6 million victims in the United States in 2014, representing 7% of all residents over the age of 16. Given the numbers, the chances are that you’re seeing identity theft victims with increasing frequency in your community.
When you meet them, these crime victims may have just discovered that someone appropriated their most personal information, possibly to get a credit card, open a store account, claim their tax refund, or collect their Social Security benefits. Their credit may be in shambles, debt collectors may be calling, and the IRS may be telling them that the refund they were counting on already has been paid.
They need to act fast to regain control over their finances. They have to clear their credit, close fraudulent accounts, check their credit reports and account statements, contact government agencies, and take other steps, depending on the type of identity theft that occurred. Most likely, they don’t know where to begin.
“Local law enforcement is often the first place identity theft victims turn for help,” said Mary Gavin, Chief of Police for Falls Church, Virginia, and an Executive Committee member of the IACP, which has joined forces with the FTC to encourage law officers to use IdentityTheft.gov to engage with and assist identity theft victims. Why? Because IdentityTheft.gov offers immediate help to victims, aids law enforcement, and can be part of a community policing initiative that can help build community trust.
First, by referring identity theft victims to IdentityTheft.gov, law officers immediately put them on the road to recovery. The website has been newly enhanced with features that provide personalized, interactive recovery plans tailored to each person’s individual identity theft circumstances. Among other things, the plans:
- Walk identity theft victims through each recovery step;
- Track their recovery progress and adapt to their changing situations; and
- Pre-fill, and let them print, the letters and forms they need to help resolve the identity theft with credit bureaus, businesses, debt collectors, and the IRS.
The website has recovery steps for more than 30 types of identity theft, including ID theft involving a child’s information. And, the entire site, including its customized letters and forms, is available in Spanish.
Second, IdentityTheft.gov aids law enforcement, both by making the crime-reporting process more efficient and by helping officers build cases. For example, many identity theft victims need a police report to get fraudulent information removed from their accounts, stop a company from collecting debts that result from identity theft, or get information from companies about accounts the thief opened. IdentityTheft.gov recommends that only victims who need these protections contact law enforcement, and it guides them to gather in advance the information and documents that officers need to create police reports efficiently.
In addition, IdentityTheft.gov is integrated with the FTC’s consumer complaint system, Consumer Sentinel Network. When people use IdentityTheft.gov, they are reporting the theft to the FTC and their information is entered directly into the Consumer Sentinel Network, a searchable database that is available to law enforcement officers nationwide. It’s a resource that helps investigators discover trends, find common elements, locate additional victims, and uncover evidence. In short, it helps investigators build cases to stop identity thieves.
Third, IdentityTheft.gov can easily be part of an identity theft education initiative that brings law officers into community meetings, church gatherings, and other venues for positive community outreach. Need help planning an event? Visit the FTC’s website for tools you can use to help make your event a success. And, order free identity theft educational materials that you can distribute. Our IdentityTheft.gov bookmark, available in Spanish too, may be perfect to have on hand at events or in a station house when identity theft victims come to you for help.
Please, visit IdentityTheft.gov, because responding to and recovering from identity theft is easier with a plan.