Who in Identity Theft Needs a Lawyer?

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Identity theft is a crime that occurs when someone obtains another personís private information in a wrongful manner through fraud or deception, usually so that the perpetrator can achieve economic gain. When identity theft occurs, there are two main parties who may wish to seek legal counsel: defendants and victims.

Common Causes of Identity Theft

Identity theft can occur in a number of ways. One common cause is by retrieving discarded pre-approval notices for credit and submitting this information unbeknownst to the recipient of this communication. Identity theft may involve other crimes, such as mail fraud in which a perpetrator intercepts mail and redirects it to another location in order to use private information. Identity theft may also occur electronically when a perpetrator retrieves the victimís credit information or infects the computer he or she is using by getting the victim to open up spam mail.

Identity theft may include acquiring credit, loans, mortgages, social welfare benefits, employment, money from financial accounts and other property. Identity theft may also result in the victim having unpaid taxes in his or her name and an inaccurate record with the Social Security Administration.

For Defendants

Being charged with identity theft and related charges is very serious. You may be charged under federal identity theft laws, which carry very serious criminal penalties. Many states have also enacted their own identity theft laws. Individuals who are charged with crimes of this nature may choose to talk to a private attorney who can advise them on their options and help protect their rights. Defendants may wish to use the services of a private attorney rather than rely on legal representation from the overworked and busy public defenderís office. He or she may make certain recommendations, such as not talking to law enforcement outside the lawyerís presence. He or she may also help effectuate a plea agreement that minimizes the defendantís criminal exposure by offering restitution or other remedies in exchange for a lighter sentence. If the case goes to trial, the attorney represents the defendant at trial by asserting any relevant defenses.

For Victims

When a person is a victim of a crime, the state represents his or her interests by pursuing criminal charges with the help of the county prosecutor or the US attorney. However, an identity theft victim may choose to retain counsel to help with a civil lawsuit against the defendant in case the state chose not to press charges or if the victim wants to pursue a case civilly. Additionally, a person may wish to retain an attorney to help with the process of correcting his or her credit information or the consequences of the illegal acts. An attorney may assist victims in the following ways:


It can be exhausting to deal with identity theft. Applications may have been made with multiple creditors, Department of Human Services offices, the Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service and many other entities and offices. An attorney may contact each affected business and agency, including the three major credit bureaus. An attorney may keep a log of all contacts made and monies expended. When making a notification to banks, the victim must often submit an affidavit. An attorney may help with the creation and wording of such documents. Further action may be required regarding notification based on the type of identity theft created. If the perpetrator used the personís name for employment, the Social Security Administration and IRS may need to be contacted. If you believe that your mail has been wrongfully forwarded, you may need to notify the postal inspector.

Request of Records

An attorney may prepare a letter or subpoena in order to acquire certain records from creditors and other agencies to assist in criminal prosecution or in support of a civil suit. This information can sometimes lead investigators to the perpetrator. For example, credit applications may contain the culpritís physical address or telephone number.

Explanation of Rights

An attorney can also help by explaining the victimís rights to him or her. For example, the victim may want to know what to do if he or she has notified a creditor of the identity theft but one is still trying to collect payment on it or what to do if he or she is receiving harassing phone calls from creditors.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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