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When Can You Sue for Identity Theft?

By Ceylan Pumphrey, Esq. | Last updated on

With the convenience of technology comes new risks as well. Although identity theft can occur without using the internet, it does make this crime easier to commit.

Having your identity stolen can be very difficult, especially since you may not discover it until much later on. Often you won't know until a credit card app, security app, or credit report alerts you that a social security number, credit card number, or sensitive personal information was stolen.

Companies like Equifax, Experian, and Transunion offer alerts about suspicious activity in your credit reports and also offer credit freezes or fraud alert settings. These are often a customer's first alert that an identity thief has had their hands in your bank account, credit cards, or other financial institutions.

Note: an ounce of prevention can go far. If you are warned that your personal information or credit card numbers have been leaked or sold (apps like CreditWise offer alerts of this nature) you should freeze your credit line or start carefully watching your credit card transactions and emails.

Can I Sue For Identity Theft?

Identity theft is a crime under federal law, and most states also have laws making it illegal. You may wonder if you're entitled to pursue a civil lawsuit against the offender(s).

It certainly feels devastating to face financial losses such as damage to your credit score or loss of money. Considering the negative effects of being the victim of identity theft, most victims want punitive damages and compensatory damages for the emotional and financial ordeal they are put through.

Some states allow identity theft victims to sue under their identity theft laws. But, even if your specific state doesn't include such a provision, you still may be able to sue if you've been the victim of identity theft.

You have options for who to sue based on your case:

  • You can sue the thief, as they are the ones responsible for your harm. However, it can be difficult to find them and their personal information. Plus, it's likely that thief will not have assets to recover if you're successful in a civil lawsuit.
  • It may be possible to sue a credit bureau or business that disclosed your credit information.
  • You can consider joining a class action lawsuit if numerous users of an app or company had a data breach.

There are various legal theories that may apply in an identity theft case. Possible theories that a victim of identity theft could sue under include:

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has steps you can take after identity fraud. You will also want to file a police report to get the incident on record. Report identity theft to all major credit bureaus, any debt collectors, credit card companies, and credit reporting agencies.

After that, you should consider if a consumer protection attorney can help you pursue a case.

A Lawyer Can Be Very Helpful

Figuring out a legal theory to sue under can be difficult, especially since it can depend on the specific facts of your case.

In addition, there is a civil statute of limitations you need to be mindful of. The statute of limitations gives you a specific amount of time to file a case -- and you don't want to miss the deadline for filing a lawsuit.

For these reasons, it's very helpful to consult with a lawyer who is familiar with these legal theories and civil procedures.

If you've been the victim of identity theft and are wondering if you can file a civil lawsuit, it's a good idea to contact a personal injury attorney who can review the facts of your case to determine who you may have a claim against and what legal theories may apply to your specific situation.

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