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The Identity Theft Enforcement and Restitution Act

If you've suffered identity theft, recovery is likely your priority. Your credit card company, bank, and other companies have processes to help you recover. Knowing your legal remedies can also be helpful.

The Identity Theft Enforcement and Restitution Act is a federal law that strengthens the government's efforts to prosecute identity theft. This law also changed the restitution available to victims.

Learn how this Act may affect your identity theft recovery process below.

Federal Identity Theft Crimes Were Limited

Identity theft was not a federal crime until Congress passed the Identity Theft Assumption Deterrence Act (ITADA) in 1998. When the law criminalized identity theft, it also set penalties of fines and prison time.

But this law only allowed federal prosecutors to charge thieves in some circumstances. The offense had to involve interstate or foreign communications. A computer fraud victim must have suffered at least $5,000 in damages, such as stolen bank account funds.

Under the original ITADA, many identity theft cases still didn't count as federal crimes. While state laws could also criminalize identity theft, they were difficult to enforce without federal resources. Victims of identity theft had less recourse to help them reverse the damage.

What Does the ID Theft Enforcement and Restitution Act Do?

The Identity Theft Enforcement and Restitution Act (ITERA) amended the law to hold identity thieves accountable more easily. Congress passed the Act in 2008 to remove some barriers of ITADA to better protect consumers. More types of identity theft now qualify as a federal crime.

ITERA Expanded Identity Theft Prosecution

The Act promoted more identity theft prosecution by:

  • Allowing federal prosecution of identity theft cases that do not involve interstate or foreign communications (when the victim and thief are in the same state)
  • Removing the requirement to show $5,000 in damages
  • Making it a felony to damage 10 or more computers used by the federal government or financial institutions within a one-year period
  • Expanding the definition of cyber-extortion
  • Prohibiting conspiracies to commit computer fraud
  • Expanding interstate and foreign jurisdiction for the prosecution of computer fraud offenses
  • Imposing criminal and civil forfeitures of property used to commit computer fraud offenses

These changes targeted problems like phishing scams and hacking as digital technology became a bigger part of daily life. Federal criminal laws like ITERA began to address more types of crime. Meanwhile, federal data laws encouraged safer business practices to prevent identity theft in the first place.

ITERA Expanded Recovery for Identity Theft Victims

The Act also sought to improve compensation for victims of identity theft. This part of the law can be beneficial if you're dealing with a stolen identity.

ITERA authorized courts to issue restitution orders when they convict a thief. In these orders, a judge can require the identity thief to repay your losses. The order can also include payments for the time you spend fixing the damage the thief caused.

How To Recover From Identity Theft

Repairing the financial losses caused by a stolen identity can be tedious. Time-consuming tasks might include getting a new Social Security number or correcting tax documents with the IRS. In many cases, a victim has to create new accounts everywhere—from online shopping accounts to bank accounts.

You can start the recovery process by reporting identity theft and contacting your financial providers immediately.

You'll likely file consumer complaints with government agencies, including:

Getting a copy of your annual free credit report can help you assess the extent of fraud. You can also request a security freeze and fraud alerts through the credit reporting agencies (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian).

Reporting identity theft can help authorities track down the person who stole your identity. These investigations can be complex, and law enforcement agencies can't always catch the thief. ITERA can offer relief when they do.

Seeking Recovery Under ITERA

The Identity Theft Enforcement and Restitution Act recognizes how burdensome this process can be. As described above, your recovery can include payment for your actual losses, such as stolen money, plus the hardship that the thief caused you.

That's why tracking your recovery process can be valuable. Keep records of your recovery steps. This includes your communications with the police department, debt collectors, and companies. This information may help show the judge how much retribution would be reasonable for your time.

ITERA and ITADA are only two Acts that help identity theft victims. Other laws, such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act, protect you against the consequences of the thief's actions.

Get Legal Help for Identity Theft Recovery

You don't have to assume the debts or losses from someone who stole your identity. Your legal rights from federal and state laws can give you a way to recover.

A local consumer protection attorney can share additional information about your options. If investigators catch the identity thief, your lawyer can guide you through the legal process. A lawyer can also represent your interests when dealing with debt collectors, companies, and more.

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Next Steps

Contact a qualified consumer attorney to assist with the hazards and stress accompanying identity theft and online scams.

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