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 could be a "yes," but it depends on your situation. There are different types of identity theft, and combined cases cost consumers a total of more than $900 million every year. More protections exist for some of those cases than others.

If your credit card has been stolen, for example, you can limit your losses simply by reaching out to authorities as soon as possible. In other situations, or if the identity theft goes unnoticed for some time, bringing in a lawyer might help resolve the situation.

Dealing With the Legal Landmines on Your Own

Despite the laws in place, you may find that you'll need a lawyer to get businesses to comply with your demands for identity theft assistance. For example, a company like PayPal may be willing to close an account that was fraudulently opened in your name, but it may not be as easy to convince PayPal to help track down who committed the fraud.

Many large companies, faced with complicated requests for sensitive information, could decide it's easier to do nothing until lawyers are involved.

Many states have put a legal procedure in place for identity theft victims to go through. Food stamp offices, the Social Security Administration, FBI, DHS, and IRS will all have "red tape" to go through. These steps can all be navigated without a lawyer, but that doesn't mean it'll be easy to do so.

How Having a Lawyer Helps Your Cause

Returning to the PayPal example, a person's fraud complaint would go through the company's standard Resolution Center. That means standard customer service department employees, not fraud specialists, will be your first point of contact at the company. They may be able to help you through your problem, but it all depends on which customer service representative you end up talking to and how busy customer service is at that moment.

The representative you reach may lack the authority or training to help you through the fraud process. If you're trying to track down the person who opened a fraudulent PayPal account in your name, they may be unable to give out information such as IP addresses.

Should the company receive a letter from your attorney, as opposed to a phone call from yourself, you'd likely have a much different experience. For starters, it doesn't go through customer service. Instead, it goes to the legal department. The people in this department are paid to keep the company from getting into legal trouble, so when they see the letter from a lawyer, they know it's a serious issue that must be addressed right away.

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.

Many potential fraud victims would have no clue what parts of which laws are important to "cite" when talking to a company. Lawyers, on the other hand, have access to specialized government training to help consumers work through these issues.

These companies might have policies against handing out sensitive information, but your lawyer can explain why those policies are superseded by your fraud protection rights. That valuable information, which lawyers bring to the table, will make all the difference when you are trying to resolve an identity theft issue.

The Bottom Line

So while you can handle many cases of identity fraud yourself, you can see how bringing in a lawyer expedites the process and ensure that it goes smoothly. Every person will have to decide for themselves whether it's worth hiring a lawyer for their case.

This article does not constitute legal advice. If you have any questions about your situation regarding identity fraud, those should be taken to a lawyer who specializes in the area. When in doubt, bring in an expert who can definitively give you the best advice available.

Remember, the earlier you catch potential cases of fraud, the less likely it is that you'll encounter complications while resolving the issue. The easiest way to catch fraud early is by using an identify theft protection service. Keep an eye on your financial accounts, especially if you're one of the millions of people every year who have sensitive information stolen in a data breach.