Can I Sue the Person Who Stole my Identity?

Stories of identity theft are on the rise in this country, which comes as a surprise to those who have become rather comfortable with trusting various forms of technology in every facet of their lives. Indeed, our techno-centric lives have contributed to the creation of tech savvy criminals who can hack virtually any computer system or device.

Although it seemed like identity theft and account hacking were less prevalent for a few years, accounts of stolen personal identifying information are now on the rise again. Hackers have learned their way around firewalls, safety features and encryption settings designed to prevent this very crime.

It seems like nearly every day that we hear about a friend’s Facebook, email or other online communication/social media account being hacked. While those used to be more of a nuisance than a danger – we can now shop right from our Facebook and other social media profiles. This means a hacker can shop as you if they are able to gain access to your account(s).

Additionally, there have been far too many reports of corporations experiencing data breaches – nearly everyone has received at least one notification letter in the mail detailing what information of theirs was potentially stolen during their recent cyber attack. Even giants like Target and Equifax have been victims of cyber crime.

What would you do if you discovered that your personal information – that being your name, birth date, social security number, home address, and other identifiers was stolen during one of these data breaches and used by another person in order to create accounts in your name? The potential for damage to your credit score is huge. What recourse do you have?

While it can be a primal instinct to want to sue the pants off the person who stole your information, that isn’t always easy to do. However, if you are able to pinpoint the criminal in question (or the corporation who allowed your personal data to be leaked) – it is possible to sue for up to three times the damages you experienced.

As soon as you realize that another person has been using your personal information to make purchases or perform other actions while posing as you – make a police report at your local police station. The sooner your identity theft matter is on record, the better. It’s important not to simply ignore it and hope it goes away, because you definitely want to avoid hitting the statute of limitations on a crime like this. Reports show that the average identity theft victim spends an average of two years trying to prove their own identity, getting charges removed from credit cards and fixing credit reports that now contain false information.

For more information about New Jersey identity theft and the statute of limitations on such crimes in our state, read about the Wrongful Impersonation statute (N.J.S.A. 2C:21-17) and contact a certified and experienced NJ credit repair attorney to help you right the wrongs that have been done.

Advertisements

My Ex Is Using My Credit Cards after Our Divorce!

Unfortunately, divorce almost always brings with it some degree of contention. Regardless of what the former couple disagrees about, it usually comes down to a “he said, she said” type of dispute.

Sometimes, however, there is legal recourse for post-divorce behavior that simply crosses the line. Take, for example, a woman who, upon setting out to clean up her credit report and boost her score, discovered that her former husband had been using her credit cards quite liberally well after they split up.

While, yes, there can be a bit of ambiguity when it comes to using shared cards in the time period after a married couple decides to part but before the Final Judgement of Divorce has been entered, the law speaks loud and clear after the divorce is final.

Any use of your ex-husband or ex-wife’s credit cards (that are in his or her name only) after you divorce is specifically disallowed. In fact, it’s against the law and reeks of identity theft.

Do some married couples use each other’s credit cards while they’re married? They do – even if the credit card in question is not a shared card and only officially “belongs” to one party. This is legal if the non-card-holder is named as an authorized user on the account.

Example: Husband goes out of town for the weekend and leaves his credit card for his wife to use for shopping. As long as she is an authorized user on his account, this is perfectly legal. However, she must sign her own name on any receipts as opposed to forging her husband’s signature.

Even if you’re currently happily married, it is generally considered unwise for you to utilize your spouse’s credit card (that is in his or her name only) if you aren’t listed as a user of the credit card. Some couples do it anyway because most merchants assume that the cardholder gave permission to the spouse to use their card. Simply calling your credit card company and adding your spouse as an authorized user is easy to do and can eliminate any potential problems.

After you are officially divorced from your spouse and are holding the Final Judgement of Divorce in your hands, there should be exactly zero further use of the other party’s credit card. This is true even if you were listed as an authorized user while you were married. Should your spouse forget to remove your name from their authorized users list, this does not in any way mean that you may continue using your ex’s credit after divorce.

An ex-spouse utilizing your credit card falls under the category of a criminal offense: identity theft. It is no different than a complete stranger stealing and using your credit card(s). If this has happened to you, the next step you should take is filing a police report and sending a copy of the police report to the credit reporting agencies. Working with a credit repair specialist will help you get the debt removed from your card and you may even be successful in making your ex pay for the charges.

Are You Committing Financial Child Abuse?

Although it may be something you’ve never considered, there have been many reports of what is now being called “financial child abuse.” One of the easiest ways to commit financial child abuse is to use your child’s Social Security number instead of your own.

Why would anyone use their child’s Social Security number?

Typically, the perpetrator has found himself with a significant amount of debt that may include wage garnishment. What this means is that any time the adult in question attempts to get a job, his debts follow him and his creditors will be able to take a portion of his paycheck.

Because of this, the adult decides to use his child’s Social Security number when applying for a new job. Oftentimes, the father and the child in question have the same name, making this kind of activity slightly more difficult to detect by law enforcement.

Is it a crime to use your child’s Social Security number?

Not only is it illegal, but to do so would be committing a number of serious crimes including:

  • Identity theft
  • Fraud
  • Tax fraud
  • Social Security fraud
  • Theft

These crimes will almost certainly prevent the adult in question from ever discharging any of his debts in a bankruptcy in the future, and in addition, he may face prison time and thousands of dollars in fines.

Why is it a crime? Who is it really hurting?

The reason it is a crime to use a child’s Social Security number to obtain employment or a loan, etc. is because regardless of whose Social Security number is being “borrowed,” it is illegal to do so. End of story. A Social Security number is not something that can be borrowed, shared, or changed.

It can affect the child in question by tacking on Social Security wages to his SSN that he may have to answer for later in life if the activity is not stopped and reversed. This can cause the child serious legal problems involving Social Security fraud, even though he had no knowledge of the crime being carried out.

What is a better solution to my debt-related problems?

It is always a good idea to avoid committing a crime in order to get out of paying your debts. The reasons? You’re going to end up getting in serious trouble, you may go to jail, you will owe more money in the end, you will cause conflict within your family, and most importantly: There is a better solution!

You can erase the debts that you have. You do not have to borrow someone else’s Social Security number to get around your creditors. It is understandable and admirable that you want to get a job to support your family. Just don’t resort to committing a crime that you will regret later in order to do so.

Filing for NJ bankruptcy will wipe out most or all of the debts that you have racked up (with some exclusions) – allowing you to have a relatively clean credit report and no debts that will be taken from your wages.

Will a bankruptcy appear on my credit report?

It is impossible to avoid a bankruptcy showing up on your credit history, however, taking the responsibility for your debts and doing the right thing is viewed much more favorably by employers and lenders. You will have a much easier time getting a job with a bankruptcy on your record than if you had been convicted of fraud and identity theft.

The bankruptcy will disappear off of your credit report within seven to ten years depending on which chapter you file. Committing a crime like identity theft or Social Security fraud will remain on your criminal history record for the rest of your life. Which sounds more desirable to you? Do the right thing – file for bankruptcy and get rid of your debts so that you can move forward with getting that job and supporting your family the right way.

USPS Mail Identity Theft: What You Need to Know

6961501032_c519114a4b_z

As our world becomes more and more saturated with technology, it’s now possible to do almost anything online. You can check your bank account balance, transfer money and pay your bills. Heck, you can even run a business online these days.

Even as we move deeper and deeper into the Information Age, there are still a number of people (and companies) who send and receive important information the “old fashioned way” – via the US Postal Service. Most of us still check the mailbox regularly, and it’s fair to say that the majority of Americans receive at least several pieces of “snail mail” every day.

What, then, should you make of your mailbox being empty for several days in a row? While not receiving any mail isn’t really that unusual once in awhile – if the trend continues beyond a single consecutive day, you should look into the reason.

As it turns out, there is a new identity theft scam making its way around the country that combines the use of both technology and old fashioned “snail mail” to take advantage of unsuspecting victims. The first clue that you may have been a victim is simply an empty mailbox.

While you may celebrate when there’s no mail (after all, no mail means no bills, right?) – the real reason may be quite sinister, and one that requires immediate attention. Ignoring your lack of mail may lead to a ruined credit report and a plunging credit score.

Here’s how this particular identity theft scheme works:

  • The identity thief typically applies for a credit card in your name, using your personal information, including your mailing address.
  • The thief then uses the USPS website to place a hold on your mail. The thief pretends to be you, but no authorization is ever required.
  • You stop receiving mail, as your identity thief plans to act as you and retrieve your mail from the post office when the credit card arrives. Again, no identification is required for them to pick up your mail from the USPS.
  • If the thief is successful, they will have a credit card in your name. The mail hold will be removed so that you will begin receiving mail at home again, and (they hope) you will be none the wiser.

This identity theft scheme has been just recently brought to light, and the lack of security surrounding the USPS electronic hold system is being investigated, according to representatives from the postal service.

In this technology-driven world, we all have to prove our identity online multiple times a day – even signing into Twitter can be difficult if you use a different computer or device. Accessing our most valuable personal information, (bank accounts, PayPal accounts and credit card statements) requires that we prove our identity through the use of complex passwords and security questions. Hopefully, the US Postal Service will soon have similar security measures in place in order to prevent just anyone from picking up “their” new credit card, all the while pretending to be you.

Until then, we want you to be aware of this problem so that your identity is not used by someone else. If this has happened to you (or you suspect that it has), acting quickly is of the utmost importance. Report the fraudulent activity, file a police report, and get in touch with a New Jersey credit repair attorney immediately.

Image credit: Matt

My SS Number was Compromised; What are my Options?

16794969011_1b7d649fb4_z

There have been many reports in the news lately about personal information being stolen or compromised. This can happen in a number of ways – not just via POS locations in big box stores, which are the stories most often broadcast in the news and across the internet.

Be Aware: How Your Information can be Accessed

Aside from the aforementioned “skimming” that happens when identity thieves use tiny devices that steal your information when you use your credit card at a store or restaurant, there are a number of other ways in which your personal information can become stolen.

  • Pick-pocketing: Perhaps the most old-fashioned form of identity theft, it still happens today! When you are outside of your home and carrying a purse, be sure to choose one with zippers or another secure closure. Keep your bag close to your body at all times. Men (and women) carrying wallets – find a better place to keep it than your back pocket.
  • Mail Tampering: Although it may be hard to believe, there are people out there who will go from mailbox to mailbox, looking for anything that contains your credit card number(s) or other identifying information.
  • Trash pickers: This is the reason we advise our clients to shred all important papers before placing them in the trash or recycling receptacle. Identity thieves make a practice of digging through outdoor trash bins and trash dumps, looking for anything from receipts to your Social Security Number.
  • Information Phishing: Much different from Fresh Water Fishing, this type of phishing involves a fraudulent email message made to look official, prompting you to respond with some very sensitive information.
  • Wireless tapping: Identity thieves are often very technologically savvy, and can easily tap into a wireless internet connection that is not secured. Make it a practice to only use secured wireless networks to keep your information safe.

If your Social Security Number becomes compromised, you have reason to be concerned. Your SSN is essentially your personal identification number, and once stolen, thieves can do a lot of damage to you. This is even truer for business owners who depend on their ability to keep their business running.

Often times, a business owner’s Employer Identification Number will be linked with his/her Social Security Number. Once their SSN has been compromised, the business owner will face seemingly insurmountable obstacles attempting to get loans as are often needed to run a business.

The first step to fixing a compromised Social Security Number is to check with your insurance company about identity theft coverage. This may help you recover any damages that have already been incurred.

Business owners can request that their EIN, LLC and SSN be separated. A new Employer Identification Number can be assigned. You can also talk to Social Security and explain that you’ve been a victim of identity theft. Request that a new Social Security Number be assigned to you and that your old SSN be cancelled.

 

Image credit: Got Credit?

Why Do I Need an EMV-Enabled Credit Card?

16292865031_d359cb2ff0_z

Although it may seem impossible, credit card fraud still continues to be an ever-increasing problem, and more than 50% of the entire world’s credit card fraud happens right here in the good ol’ US of A.

Credit card companies have stepped up to address this problem by creating a technology that will make it much more difficult for your personal information to be stolen. The technology comes in the form of a small chip that is implanted into consumers’ newly issued credit cards, called an EMV chip. EMV stands for Europay, Mastercard and Visa because these were the companies that initiated the new technology.

Many Americans have heard about the EMV chip and may feel a lot more secure now; however, it’s important to know the whole story before you let your guard down. Simply having a card with a security chip won’t help you at all unless the stores you patronize have upgraded their credit card machines to be able to actually use the chip.

Swiping your credit card through a retailer’s card reader is like dangling your personal information in the face of a data thief. Magnetic stripe card readers are easy to bug and, in turn, easy to commit fraud through. It has been predicted that credit card fraudsters are in the process of targeting as many magnetic stripe payment machines as possible, while they still can.

Those retailers who have switched their payment terminals over to include a card reader will benefit greatly. If any data breaches occur in stores with card readers, the stores will not be held responsible. This is a huge incentive for retailers to get with the program and update their payment machines.

If a breach occurs while using an EMV-ready machine, the bank (who owns your credit card debt) will be responsible to remedy the situation. Luckily, data breaches are much less likely on EMV-ready machines because the consumer’s credit card is inserted into a card reader that will generate a code that is totally unique to that shopper.

This all sounds like a fantastic step toward lowering the amount of credit card fraud that is currently taking place in the US (and around the world). The problem is that stores are not required to implement the EMV readers. Magnetic strip cards will still be processed the same as before – by swiping.

What you should know:

As a consumer, you should protect yourself by using only credit cards with data chips installed. If your bank has not issued you an EMV card yet – get on the phone and request demand one. Once you have received a new card, try to do all (or at least most) of your shopping at stores that have updated their sale terminals to be able to read EMV chips. Insert your card into the card reader; avoid swiping at all costs!

Naturally, you’re never going to be 100% safe, especially if you do a lot of online shopping. The best way to protect yourself online is to limit web-based purchases to sites that have a solid reputation. We will delve into how to safely shop online in an upcoming blog post.

Image (used with permission) by Aranami

How to Recover from Identity Theft

14506854261_8e965b8457_z

Although we strongly believe that the best defense against identity theft is a (virtually) impenetrable offense – if you let your guard down even for a second, your personal information can be stolen.

Some behaviors that will increase your risk for identity theft include: shopping online, using an public wireless internet connection, putting pieces of mail that contain personal info into the trash bin, and giving out your personal information to anyone  you don’t explicitly trust – whether over the phone or in person.

I suspect someone has accessed my personal info. What now?

If you have reason to believe that your private, financial or otherwise personal information has been stolen, there are some things that you can to do lessen the damage to your finances and credit report.

Remember, once someone accesses your personal information, they can then proceed to act as you, making a huge mess for you to clean up. The important thing here is to have a quick reaction time.

In order to stay organized during this stressful time, start writing down  everything you do that relates to the identity theft. Write down phone calls you make, including who you speak to and what was said. Make note of any discussions with the police, your bank(s), and your NJ attorney.

Keep track of all of the time you spend and any money you have to spend in order to clean up the mess, because expenses related to identity theft are tax deductible.

Place a ‘fraud alert’ on your credit report with the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. This alerts them to the fact that any financial activity that occurs while the fraud alert is in place is not done with your permission.

Just as important as contacting the credit bureaus is talking to your bank and any credit card companies. You must move as quickly as possible to alert your banking institution to cancel your debit or banking card. As soon as your bank knows there has been a theft of your information, you won’t be held responsible for anything the identity theft does thereafter.

If you realize your financial information has been stolen because of strange activity on your credit card or debit card, you once again must act fast to protect yourself. You’ll need to report the fraudulent activity within two business days of the date that it took place. This is why it is always a good idea to stay on top of the activity in your bank account and credit card accounts. If you check your activity online every day, you’ll be sure to spot an identity thief before much (or any) damage is done.

Next, you’ll want to make this event official by creating a report of the identity theft with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). By reporting the identity theft, you’ll have a much higher chance of getting any negative marks removed from your credit report that were caused by the fraud artist. This action will also stop a company from coming after you for debts that were incurred by your identity thief – not you.

You may also wish to file a police report and contact a local attorney. Your attorney can help make sure that you’ve covered all of the right bases regarding the information breach, and will help you take legal action against any creditors that attempt to collect money from you that was part of the identity theft.

Image credit: Sebastien Launay

 

How to Put a Stop to Familial Identity Theft

identity theft

Identity theft is a crime, regardless of who is doing it – and it’s important to know how to put a stop to it if it’s happening to you. There have been reported cases of identity theft among family members who share the same name. A father and son, for example, even if they are Jr and Sr, still for all intents and purposes have the same first and last name.

A recent case came to light wherein a man’s father was essentially manipulating his son’s credit rating by posing as the son to apply for a multitude of things, including a mortgage loan – complete with forged signatures! A situation like this can be extremely detrimental to family ties, but must be dealt with accordingly.

Anytime someone knowingly poses as another person in order to make use of their credit, action must be taken. If this has happened to you, it may feel very conflicting to report your family member to the authorities. In that case, you should attempt to talk to the person in question first and let him/her know that what is occurring is illegal and very damaging to you personally and financially.

You can also investigate whether or not the Consumer Reporting Agencies are at all at fault for combining both of your financial identities.

If, after a proper discussion and investigation, your family member continues to use your personal information for his/her own financial benefit, your next step would be to connect with a credit repair attorney in your area. An experienced attorney will know exactly how to help you take back control of your identity, and will be able to send a formal cease and desist letter to the family member in question.

Your attorney will help you make contact with all of the Consumer Reporting Agencies to report what has happened and to demand that corrections are made to your file so no further damage is done to your credit score. At this time, legal action may have to be taken against the identity theft in order to stop them from using your name and other personal information. It is never pleasant when we have to take legal action against a family member or friend, so make sure that you’ve made every attempt to mediate the situation before taking it to an attorney.

After your current situation gets resolved – either through the court system or via mediation – you’ll want to take steps to prevent something like this from happening in the future. If you get the feeling that the behavior may repeat itself, you may want to think about legally changing your name. This will eliminate any confusion about your identity being separate from that of the perpetrator.

Remember: identity theft is illegal! Using a family member’s identity is NOT OK, and needs to be stopped, regardless of how emotionally difficult the process may be.

Image credit: Nellie Mckay

 

Free NJ Workshop: How to Build a Better Credit Report

VL_blogheaderclr

Having a good, solid credit score is important for so many reasons. A mediocre or low score can prevent you from becoming a home owner because lenders look closely at potential borrowers’ credit reports before approving loan applications. A less-than-stellar credit report can even make it difficult to find a landlord who’ll allow you to rent. Your credit report and score say a lot about your financial stability, and even if all of your money missteps are behind you, improving your credit score and cleaning up your credit report will take some time and concerted effort.

Since you’ve landed on this post, you’ve probably already acknowledged that your credit report needs help. Reaching out for help is a great sign! One word of caution is that there are a plethora of companies that will promise to clean up your credit report in record time, offering you a virtually “new credit identity.” A vast majority of these companies are fraudulent, and should be avoided at all costs. Often, they are engaging in illegal activities that can potentially get you in serious legal trouble if you give them your information.

All hope is not lost, though! Building a better credit report is possible with the help of a qualified and NJ licensed credit repair attorney like George Veitengruber, Esq.

It may seem daunting to consider hiring an attorney to help you improve your credit report. Pay out even more money in order to fix your money mistakes? Lucky for you, Veitengruber Law is offering up a TON of FREE pertinent information that will help you start improving your credit score.

There’s no catch, we promise. You can come out and ask all the questions you’d like. Bring a recent copy of your credit report if you have one, so that you can ask all of the right questions while looking directly at your report – free of charge.

The Details

What:   ‘Building a Better Credit Report‘ – a FREE informational workshop

When: January 29, 2015; 7:00 – 8:30pm

Where: Howell Public Library; 318 Old Tavern Rd. Howell, NJ  07731

Why: You’ll learn: how to start improving your credit score, your rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, how to better deal with debt, tips about avoiding $$$ scams and identity theft.

Who: Presented by George E. Veitengruber, Esq.

Cost: FREE

RSVP: To reserve your space, call The Howell Public Library at 732-695-3303.

Wisdom Wednesday: How to Avoid Identity Theft

 

1594411528_1512b1aad5_z

In recent years, identity theft has become a much more common problem than it used to be. It is a very serious crime, and the perpetrator(s) can serve jail time if caught. Offenders who commit aggravated identity theft (those who use another person’s identity without legal permission and then commit a felony act) will get an extra two years tacked on to their prison sentence automatically. Aggravated identity thieves cannot receive probation.

The point being: identity theft is not a fun little game for either the perpetrator or the victim. The repercussions can be severe, damaging, and highly stress-inducing for the victim. Probably the most important thing to know about identity theft is that it can happen to literally anyone.

What is Identity Theft, Anyway?

Identity theft happens when either a person you know or a stranger somehow accesses your private information without you knowing about it. Once the thief has accessed your personal information (bank account number, credit card number, Social Security benefits information, etc), s/he will act as you in order to take possession of your money, resources or benefits.

This means that your bank account may be drained, your credit card could be charged for multiple expensive purchases,  your Social Security or other benefits may be stolen, and more. Since the perpetrator will be acting as you during these offenses – your name, reputation, achievements and credit score will all be put at risk.

If the perpetrator is experienced, s/he may be undetectable or untraceable, leaving you to clean up the mess that was made. Your finances can potentially be ruined, as can your reputation.

Can I Protect Myself Against Identity Thieves?

The answer to that is a complicated “Yes.” Protecting yourself against identity theft is possible, but you must be diligent. The most important first step in protecting yourself is to recognize the behaviors you engage in every day that put you at risk of having your personal information stolen and misused. Being aware of how and when thieves get ahold of your information will enable you to use more caution during certain situations.

Some of these behaviors include: online shopping, sharing your personal information with staff members at a place of business or office, using a cell phone or laptop with a public wireless connection, tossing the wrong things (pre-approved credit cards or other mail that contains personal info) into your trash can and using your debit card to withdraw money from an ATM.

During all of those activities, your personal information isn’t secure. However, there are things you can do to make sure your information is as protected as possible.

If you use the internet as your own personal shopping mall (and who doesn’t, these days?), make sure all of your account passwords are complex and different. Make it your practice to shop only on websites that begin with https:// – the added -s means they are a secure site. Never use the internet to shop, pay bills, or do any banking when you’re in a public place using an unsecured Wi-Fi connection. Any number of people will likely be sharing that public Wi-Fi connection, which means that they can easily “see” any personal information that you may be using.

Never give out personal information over the phone or via email. In fact, you should only provide someone with your Social Security number if absolutely necessary, and ideally only face-to-face. If you receive mail that contains personal info – shred it before tossing it in the bin. Delete any emails that request your personal info.

In order to maintain the safety of your personal information, make it your practice to check your bank and other account statements carefully and regularly. If you see any charges that you didn’t personally make, you will know that your information has been wrongfully accessed, and you’ll need to take immediate action.

If you have been a victim of identity theft and a creditor is attempting to collect a debt from you that was incurred by an identity thief, you may need to contact an attorney to ensure that you will have an excellent defense against any and all debts that were not made by you personally.

Image credit: Don Hankins