Identity Theft in Massachusetts
What is identity theft? Identity theft is when someone uses your personal information (usually your name, address, Social Security Number, or financial account numbers) to open accounts in your name.
Hackers and criminals can sometimes get your personal information online, or even through rummaging through garbage. Identity theft can happen to anyone. One website has a list of celebrities whose identities were stolen.
When it’s discovered, it’s often after damage has occurred – debt collectors calling about accounts you didn’t open, or denials of credit due to unpaid accounts opened by criminals. Sometimes debt collectors will even file lawsuits for unpaid accounts opened by debt collectors. It can be disruptive, time-consuming, and expensive to deal with.
How can you defend against identity theft? You can be proactive in defending against identity theft by closely monitoring your financial accounts. Regularly review your bank and credit card statements for unfamiliar charges. If you receive bills for accounts you didn’t open, call the companies who sent them to you to get more information. Shred important financial documents. Most importantly, regularly review your credit reports for unknown accounts and addresses. You can get your credit reports for free through AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling (877) 322-8338.
The main consumer-protection law dealing with identity theft is the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The Fair Credit Reporting Act deals with credit reporting. Most fraudulent accounts will be listed on your credit report. This is how most people first find out that someone has been using their identity.
If you are a victim of identity theft, you can put an emergency fraud alert on your credit report with all three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. This helps to stop more accounts from being opened. The government website IdentityTheft.gov can also help you formulate a plan for dealing with identity theft.
This does not, however, fix the accounts that are already on your credit report. Most of the work to recover from identity theft must be done by you. This includes, among other things, submitting disputes to the credit reporting agencies and filing police reports.
Our office can help. If you don’t submit a proper credit report dispute to the credit reporting agencies, they are allowed to keep reporting the fraudulent account and it will continue affecting your ability to get credit.
Identity theft often has to be dealt with under the criminal justice system, as well, by filing police reports and assisting with a criminal investigation. We can help advise you on where to file police reports and what information to ensure you include. Police reports are also included with credit report disputes.
If submitting credit report disputes still doesn’t get the accounts removed, we can help you to take legal action in court to fix it. This is usually done by filing a lawsuit in Massachusetts federal court under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Under the FCRA, you may be entitled to statutory damages, actual damages (such as for denials of credit), punitive, damages, costs, and attorney’s fees.
When identity theft strikes, contact our office for a free no-risk case evaluation.