What to Know About Identity Theft and Hiring a Lawyer

An older couple meeting with a lawyer in her office to discuss identity theft.

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A question that comes up in regards to identity theft is, "Do I really need a lawyer?" The short answer is "More than likely, yes, you will need a lawyer." Identity theft can seep into many different areas of our lives, and some of them are stickier than others to resolve. One of the biggest paradoxes is that most identity theft advertisement and services are geared toward finances, bank accounts, credit cards, and loans. However, while financial identity theft accounts for around 25% of identity theft reports that still leaves a big chunk that can be theft of another sort. Also, the breakdown percentage has been pretty consistent for years as well.

Of all the different types of identity theft, financial identity theft is the easiest to resolve. If you are a victim of purely financial identity theft, chances are good you can handle the phone calls yourself. It will cost you a lot of time during business hours, and identity theft victims must often take a significant amount of time off work to do so, but the fact remains that you can make phone calls without an attorney.

Dealing With the Legal Landmines on Your Own

However, despite the laws in place, you'll need a lawyer to get businesses to comply with demands for copies of their records. A Knoxville, Tennesse woman, Irene Campbell, ran into this problem while trying to take care of her identity theft. She got in touch with PayPal after she got a bill from service, citing her PayPal account.

For starters, she didn't have one. PayPal instantly got rid of the account. When she asked for information on who had opened the account in her name, however, she was stonewalled. It's not that the law isn't in her favor, it's simply that PayPal has a legal staff, and Campbell did not have a lawyer to write to the company for her. Simply put, if you don't have an attorney to make your requests and demands, they know that you cannot force them to tell you anything. They'll take their chances, more often than not.

To compel a business to provide the information you need to locate the person who is responsible and prosecute them. To do this you'll need a lawyer. Many states have put a legal procedure in place for identity theft victims to go through. Again, you'll need a lawyer. Food stamp offices, the Social Security Administration, FBI, DHS, IRS will all have "red tape" to go through. At each turn, you will want someone to guide you through legal landmines. In other words, you'll need a lawyer.

How Having a Lawyer Helps Your Cause

Normally, your complaint will go through the customer service department. These are low-paid employees who are not empowered by the company to do anything but handle routine tasks. The company spends plenty to give their customer service representatives the ability to do as much as they can without damaging critical account information. The company would be remiss if they didn't put such safeguards in place.

But the customer service representative on the other end of the phone doesn't have that kind of authority. Also, despite legal requirements otherwise they have probably not even received training on the subject of identity theft, and only minimal training on protecting privacy.

Contrast that with a letter from your attorney. For starters, it doesn't go through customer service. Instead, it goes to the legal department. They're paid to keep the company from getting into legal trouble, so when they see the letter from a lawyer, it communicates "This is legal and must be addressed now." Your attorney will put in legal references such as:

Pursuant to 15 U.S.C. § 1681g, XYZ Company is hereby requested to provide all information concerning fraudulent account #18764079AR, including transaction history, billing information, application information, and any and all such other information as may be relevant to said account, no later than 15 days from receipt of this letter.

The point is, most of us would have no clue what parts of which laws are important to "cite" when we are talking with a company who has a policy which—on the surface—says they can't give any information out about an account that you have claimed is not yours. Lawyers can bring that valuable information to the table, and it will make all the difference when you are trying to resolve an identity theft issue.

So the long answer is "Although you may be able to handle many aspects of your identity theft yourself, there will always be areas that it is best to have the help of an attorney." But the short answer will always be, "You'll need a lawyer."

The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law. For current legal advice, please consult with an attorney.