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The Identity Theft Enforcement and Restitution Act

According to estimates from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly 17 million people experienced at least one incident of identity theft in 2012, causing financial losses totaling almost $25 billion. In 2013, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported that identity theft complaints are the most common consumer complaint, affecting Americans of all ages and backgrounds.

To address the growing threat of identity theft, in 2008, Congress passed the Identity Theft Enforcement and Restitution Act, a federal law that seeks to strengthen efforts to prosecute identity theft while also improving restitution available to victims. Read on to learn more about the Act and what it means to you.

What Does The Act Do?

Identity theft was not a federal crime until Congress passed the Identity Theft Assumption Deterrence Act in 1998. However, under that law, certain federal charges could only be brought where the offense involved interstate or foreign communications and, in cases of computer fraud, where the victim suffered at least $5,000 in damages.

When it was passed in 2008, the Identity Theft Assumption and Deterrence Act removed some of these barriers and further promoted prosecutions of identity theft by:

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

In addition, the Act sought to more fully compensate victims of identity theft by authorizing courts to issue restitution orders that require payments to victims not just for the actual harm caused, but also for the time they spent fixing the damage caused by the theft of their identities.

What Can I Do If My Identity Has Been Stolen?

Along with protecting all of your financial assets, it is important to immediately report any identity theft to the proper authorities. This can help to protect you from further harm and will also enable the authorities to track down the perpetrators before they can harm anyone else.

To report identity theft, contact your local police department or sheriff's office. You should also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. You can also file a report with your local FBI Office, which investigates violations of federal identity theft laws. For more information on what to do if you've been the victim of identity theft, see FindLaw's "Stolen Identity? What to do Next."

Keep in mind that, with the increased restitution available to victims under the Identity Theft Enforcement and Restitution Act, you may be able to recover not just for your actual losses, but for the time spent in trying to fix all of the damage done. That being said, it is important to keep track of all of your efforts and time spent remedying the harm caused by the theft of your identity.

Additional Resources

For additional information on how to prevent and detect identity theft and what to do if you've been a victim of identity theft, see FindLaw's "Identity Theft" section or the information provided by the Federal Trade Commission. If you've been a victim of identity theft, you may also want to speak with a consumer protection attorney in your area to ensure that your rights are protected and to determine what additional remedies may be available to you under federal or state law.

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