Reporting Identity Theft to the Police

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No matter what type of identity theft we talk about, the first step in recovering is to file a report with the FTC. The second step (and possibly the most important) is to obtain a police report. There is some debate about the order here – some experts say you should 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 (in other words, if you fill out the FTC complaint first, you will want to reference it when you report the identity theft to the police, and vice versa.)

Reporting identity theft to the police is often a difficult experience for the identity theft victim. First, the police may not even want to come out and talk with you, they may send you to a website to fill out a form. This makes some people feel like their complaint isn't being "taken seriously" by the police. 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: there is only one victim (you), no "harm" was done (meaning you were not bodily injured), and they will not be able to apprehend the accused if they show up.

Many victims have reported that 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 they work (city or county) and are not responsible for handling something that occurs outside their jurisdiction.

State and Federal authorities are usually brought into play in those cases. But an identity theft victim can run into a second barrier filing a police report if they try to file a police report in another jurisdiction – because they don't live in that jurisdiction, and (again) the police aren't responsible for that.

Some states have written specific laws addressing these issues, or have created a process for identity theft victims to deal with the problem. But 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 brief, 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 find it helpful 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.

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 mess, you will want to include that information in the report.

Once you have filed an identity theft police report, get a copy of it. Your case may be assigned to an investigator, but again, don't expect a lot of activity unless you are just one of several victims – for the same reasons the police may be reluctant to actually take a report in the first place. 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 want you to have this notarized, but it is not required by any law at the time of this writing.

One common complaint with my clients is that a company refuses to give them any information about disputed transactions or accounts, saying that it is confidential information, saying that it is proprietary business information that they will not provide without a court order, or even citing privacy policies. Don't get upset, just ask for the mailing address for 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.

Reporting identity theft to the police can be an ordeal in and of itself. Knowing what your rights are will go a long way toward making the whole thing go more smoothly, and you will need to master the art of being firm without being upset. Fortunately, (or perhaps, unfortunately) identity theft has gotten so pervasive that the process of getting an identity theft police report is getting overall easier as time goes by.