Reporting Identity Theft to the Police

••• J.Castro/Getty Images

No matter what type of identity theft it is, the first step in the recovery process is to file a report with the FTC. The second step (and possibly the most important) is to obtain a police report. While there is some debate about the order, the general rule of thumb is to get an identity theft police report first, then contact the FTC.

Either way, these should happen about the same time. Whichever you do first, you will want to reference the first complaint with the second.

Dealing With Law Enforcement

Reporting identity theft to the police is often a difficult experience for the identity theft victim. First, when you visit the police station, they may not want to talk with you, they may send you to a website to fill out a form. This makes some people feel as though their complaint isn't being taken seriously. It's important to know, however, that the police have a primary responsibility to protect people from imminent danger, and identity theft is a very low-impact crime from the police perspective. The victim (you) has not suffered any bodily harm.

Many victims have reported that the police would not even take an identity theft report from them. This phenomenon has to do with jurisdictions and training. The police typically deal with crimes that happen in the area where they work (e.g., city or county) and are not responsible for handling something that occurs outside of their jurisdiction. State and Federal authorities are usually brought into play in those cases. 

State Laws

Some states have written specific laws addressing these issues, or have created a process for identity theft victims to deal with the problem. However, training in the police force can be spotty. If the crime isn't a common one (like it is in Arizona, for example,) the training may be cursory, or possibly even be no more than an email or bulletin board posting. This means that even though there may be a new law in place, a patrolman could be completely unaware of it. You may want to contact your local attorney general's office to see if there is a specific process in your state for addressing identity theft police reports. You can find information for getting in touch with your local attorney general on the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) website.

Filing Out the Report

When you get to the point of actually filing the identity theft police report, whether they come to talk to you directly, or you are filling it out online, you will want to provide more information than is normally given in a police report. If you know specific dates of fraudulent purchases, accounts that were opened in your name, businesses that were used, or have some idea who may be behind the theft, you will want to include that information in the report.

Once you have filed an identity theft police report, make sure you receive a copy of it. Your case may be assigned to an investigator, but again, don't expect a lot of activity unless you are one of several victims—the more likely the police will be to get involved. 

Be Your Own Sleuth

Most identity theft victims find that they end up doing most of the actual investigating themselves. If that is the case, you will want to have photocopies made of both the identity theft police report and your FTC complaint. These will be required by any company you get into a dispute with, which will be any company where the identity thief used your name. Keep the original for yourself, they only need a copy. Some companies will ask you to have the reports notarized, but this is not required by any law.

Don't be surprised if a company refuses to give you any information about disputed transactions or accounts, saying it is confidential information. They may cite privacy policies or say that it is proprietary business information that they can not provide without a court order. Don't get upset, just ask for the mailing address of their legal department, and mail them a copy of this letter which is provided by the FTC. They may say they will only send a copy to the detective investigating your case, but the law specifically states that they must provide the information to you and a law enforcement officer designated by you.