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Sanford Horowitz: What Is Identity Theft and What to Do If You’re A Victim

Identity theft occurs when someone represents that he/she is you by using your personal information, and does so for either fraudulent or other unlawful, improper purposes.

Identity theft can occur when someone uses your personal information to open a “new account,” such as a bank account or credit-card account.

It also occurs in cyberspace when someone uses your personal information to post online in Facebook, craigslist, chat rooms, and more.

In an “account takeover,” the person gains access to an existing, legitimate account using your personal information. Someone who uses your personal information to avoid prosecution commits “criminal” identity theft.

Where Do They Get Your Personal Information?

Although computer hacking gets the biggest headlines, mail theft, dumpster diving and theft of company records by employees continue to be the most common ways of obtaining personal information.

The safest way to protect yourself from being a victim of identity fraud is to shred information containing your personal information before throwing it way in the trash.

What Laws Are Used to Prosecute Cases of ID Theft?

In California, Penal Code section 530.5, Using Personal Information of Another, is perhaps the most common law charged in connection with identity theft. It can be charged as a misdemeanor or as a felony. It is commonly charged in conjunction with other charges including grand theft, credit-card fraud, perjury and burglary statutes.

What Should I Do If I Am a Victim?

Be sure to report the crime to your local law enforcement agency and obtain a copy of the police report.

Contact the three major credit reporting companies. Ask them to place a fraud alert on your credit report and to indicate on your reports “My ID has been used to apply for credit fraudulently. Contact me at (telephone number) to verify all applications.”

Ask the credit bureaus to remove inquiries generated due to the fraudulent accounts and to remove the items that are due to the criminal activity of the identity thief.

Here’s where to write or call:

P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta 30374

P.O. Box 2104
Allen, Texas 75013

P.O. Box 6790
Fullerton 92834

— Sanford Horowitz is a partner with Horowitz Law in Santa Barbara.  The opinions expressed are his own. This article is not intended to provide legal advice. For legal advice on any of the information in this post, click here for the form or phone number on the Horowitz Law contact us page.

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