Imagine getting pulled over for something as innocuous as a small speeding violation or a broken tail light, but when the police officer runs your license through the database, you’re suddenly under arrest for crimes you didn’t commit. It’s a terrifying scenario that has happened to many victims of criminal identity theft.
What is criminal identity theft?
This is a type of identity theft in which the thief uses someone else’s name when they commit crimes, ranging from traffic violations to larger, more serious infractions, as the Identity Theft Resource Center explains.
What really differentiates criminal identity theft from other types of identity fraud is that it’s much harder for victims to know when they’ve become compromised. Most often, they only find out indirectly, like when they encounter law enforcement for a simple traffic violation or apply for a job that runs a background check. In many cases, victims have been denied employment because of false criminal records.
How can you prevent it?
Because of this major difference in criminal ID theft , prevention is challenging. However, some efforts against other types of fraud can help you avoid becoming the victim of this as well. It’s important to guard important pieces of information, like your birth certificate and Social Security Number.
You should also take advantage of your right to three free credit reports from each of the bureaus every year. Keeping an eye on your credit and other accounts can, at the very least, help you detect if your identity has been compromised in any capacity.
What do you do if you become a victim?
Even if you take these precautions, it’s still possible (but possibly less likely) that you could become a victim of criminal identity theft. So, you should know the effective ways of handling it and create a plan just in case.
In any circumstance, the best first course of action for victims is to contact law enforcement to inform them that someone is using your identity and file an impersonation report. From there, you can begin working with law enforcement to clear your name or, at the very least, give you the means to avoid getting arrested for crimes you didn’t commit.
One such mean is the “Identity Theft Passport” program, which currently exists in 11 states, according to USA Today. Arkansas, Delaware, Iowa, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma and Virginia allow victims of criminal identity theft to obtain an official Identity Theft passport that can help them prove their identity and save them from further mistaken criminal charges.
In other states, victims can request a letter from the District Attorney. This is sometimes referred to as a “clearance letter” that can be presented to law enforcement to explain which crimes on your record you didn’t commit. It’s important to always have this letter on you.
While criminal identity theft is damaging and difficult to prevent, it’s still important to address and these and other identity theft concerns. For this, you can invest in a service like Identity Guard, which can monitor your credit files and notify you of certain activity that may indicate fraud. In the event that something is detected, it can prompt you to check into other parts of your identity.