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What Does an Identity Theft Attorney Do?

A consumer protection lawyer can help your life and finances get back on track after an identity thief steals your information. They can help you with the steps you need to take to dispute fraudulent activity.

Identity theft is the type of crime that can cause significant damage and lingers for many years. The damage is particularly lasting when it hurts your credit history or reputation. Taking immediate action to protect yourself is essential if someone steals your identity.

Fortunately, many resources can help you recover from identity theft and protect your identity in the future. Identity theft attorneys have experience with protecting the rights of identity theft victims. They understand your rights and remedies under state and federal laws.

What Is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is a form of identity fraud that involves using someone else's personal information. Federal law defines identity theft as the knowing transfer, possession, or use of "a means of identification of another person."

Identity theft and identity fraud are often used interchangeably. But, identity fraud is a broad category of crimes involving false identification.

Identity thieves don't have legal authority to use your information. Yet, they use it for an activity that violates federal law or is a felony under state law. For example, the thief may use it to withdraw money from your bank account.

How Thieves Get Your Information

Identity thieves use various methods to get personal information, including:

  • Stealing wallets or purses to get debit or credit cards
  • Stealing mail from the mailbox or redirecting your mail to a different address
  • Telephone scams
  • Data breaches of financial institutions or retail companies
  • Internet scams like spoofing and phishing

You can start your recovery process on IdentityTheft.gov, which the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) manages. You can also call the FTC's toll-free hotline: 1-877-438-4338. These identity theft resources can give you more information when deciding whether to hire an attorney.

A Lawyer Can Help You Navigate ID Theft Recovery Steps

Recovering your identity and clearing your name is challenging and time-consuming. An attorney can help identify all new accounts and issues so you can see the full extent of the damage.

You may need to:

  • File a police report
  • File a report with the Federal Trade Commission
  • File a report for stolen Social Security numbers with the Social Security Administration
  • Contact financial institutions to start fraud alerts or close accounts
  • Contact credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) to remove fraudulent information from a credit report
  • Contact creditors or debt collection agencies

An identity theft attorney has experience with these communications. A lawyer understands the legal obligations of these entities to cooperate with you. If they meet you with resistance, your attorney can assert your needs.

A Lawyer Can Reduce Stressful Communications

An identity thief may leave you facing unpaid bills or accusations of fraud. These problems can lead to constant calls and messages from lenders, businesses, or investigators.

Hiring a lawyer can restrict these disruptions to your life while you repair your identity. For example, debt collection agencies can't call you once you hire a lawyer. Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, they can only contact your attorney.

A Lawyer Can Explain Your Specific Options

Identity theft attorneys can explain which laws are relevant to your situation. They can also identify the routes to recover your losses and protect your identity.

Under federal law, for example, a victim of identity theft has a right to restitution for the actual harm they suffered. They also have this right for the time spent fixing the damage.

Many state laws allow more remedies. Your state may let you file suit against the perpetrators and recover damages. In Florida, theft victims can file suit and recover triple the damages.

A Lawyer Can Safeguard Your Claim

If you qualify for state or federal recovery, a lawyer can help you avoid missing your chance. Identity theft laws typically have a statute of limitations, meaning you have a short time after noticing the theft to claim recovery. Attorneys can keep track of the paperwork and other requirements to protect your opportunity.

How To Choose an Identity Theft Attorney

If you contact an attorney to help you with an identity theft matter, take the following steps before hiring them:

  • Confirm the scope of representation: You want to know whether they will only communicate with relevant entities to correct your records or whether they will file a complaint and represent you in court.
  • Ask about their experience: You want to know whether they have handled identity theft cases like yours and, if so, how many cases and their final results.
  • Confirm the fee arrangement: You should ask about the fee arrangement, including the rates, whether your arrangement will be on contingency, a flat fee, or an hourly fee, and whether a retainer is necessary.
  • Review the written representation agreement: You should have a representation agreement in writing, but read it carefully before signing.

As the target of identity theft, it's understandable to wonder whether an attorney would be worth the investment. Research the lawyer and their law firm to select a reliable advocate confidently.

Do I Need an Identity Theft Lawyer?

No, not all cases of identity theft call for legal representation. You may resolve simple issues, such as a stolen driver's license, on your own.

Contacting fraud departments or your local police department to report fraud doesn't need a lawyer. You can also check your free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com and set up a security freeze on your credit accounts.

When To Hire a Lawyer

Unfortunately, some cases are far more complex. For example, law enforcement may dispute your claim that someone else committed a crime in your name. Or, exposing your sensitive information was so pervasive that untangling the identity thief from your life will be hard. In these circumstances, a lawyer can use advanced approaches to protect you.

Attorney representation is also suitable if you expect to go to court. You may have discovered who stole your identity and want to pursue a civil lawsuit. Court may also be appropriate if a company negligently gave away your personal information.

Can an Attorney General Help Instead?

An attorney general offers limited guidance for identity theft victims. They represent public interest, but they do not represent private, individual interests in these cases. The attorney general's office investigates consumer complaints on a broad level. It also guides legislation and policies, sometimes to increase consumer privacy protection.

A consumer protection lawyer is different because they can give you direct, personalized legal advice. Your private attorney represents you (and only you) in court.

Browse Local Identity Theft Lawyers

If you're a victim of identity theft, you can compare consumer protection attorneys who practice law in your state. You can schedule a consultation with a lawyer to determine if they're a good match for your case. You can also ask them specific questions about the identity theft recovery process.

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

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