Federal Internet Law & Policy
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Fraud: ID Theft Dont be a FOOL; The Law is Not DIY

FTC ID Theft: When Bad Things Happen To Your Good Name  [TEXT]  [PDF]
An excellent guide with step-by-step instructions if you have been a victim.
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The Victim

So, if you find yourself on the TV show “To Tell the Truth” with lots of people asking, “will the real you please stand up,” what can you do?

The first step is to report the situation to the police. The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act provides you certain protections that can be taken advantage of by your local friendly federal law enforcement agency. The Act makes it a federal crime if someone

knowingly transfers or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable state or local law.

[18 U.S.C. § 1028(a)(7)]. This Act carries with it the threat of 15 years imprisonment, a fine, and forfeiture of any personal property used or intended to be used to commit the crime.

There are a couple of things to note about this law. First, any means of identification of another person can be stolen. This can include a wide range of things including social security numbers, phone numbers, and credit card numbers. As the information age progresses and new means of identifying us are developed on the Internet, theft of those means of identification will likewise violation this Act (imagine a domain name system or database that is used to provide contact information, such as IP telephony numbers or e-mail addresses, for people).

Another thing to note is that the perpetrator has to steal your identity with the intent to do something evil. If someone mistakenly gets your identity, say by an error in a database, this does not constitute a violation of the law. When the online bookstore misidentifies your cookie, thinks that you are your local politician, and starts revealing all the dirty books that the local politician has purchased, this would not be identity theft.

If you are a victim of ID theft, there are a number of other steps you can take.

What you do next will depend on the type of identity theft that you experienced. If your address was changed, you need to contact the Post Office. If the crime involved investments, you should contact the Security Exchange Commission. The Federal Trade Commission has a ID Theft Form entitled “Chart your Course of Action” that you can use to make sure you take all appropriate steps. If the crime has resulted in credit problems, you may need to explore your rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The Truth in Lending Act limits your liability for unauthorized credit card charts in most cases to $50 per cards (many companies now offer zero liability, marketing their cards as the safe card to use on the Internet).

The Paranoid

Of course, the best way to deal with one of these unfortunate situations is to prevent them in the first place. Some actions recommended by the FTC and other organizations include:

My personal favorite advice for protecting your personal information is to lie, lie, lie. There are lots of people asking lots of questions about you for a plethora of reasons. In many occasions, there is no reason you have to tell them the truth. One strategy is to provide them the information they ask for, but let it all be creative fiction. If they want to know your date of birth, make one up. Randomly pick a salary. Say that you have 30 children. Never give out your actual e-mail address unless you like SPAM. And when that devious someone tries to create a personal profile of you, it will be so full of conflicting information and rubbish as to be useless.

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