for the debt of your identity thief
The US Department of Justice classifies identity theft as the fastest-growing white-collar crime in the Nation. The Federal Commission received over 2.8 million fraud reports from consumers in 2021, losing more than $5.8 billion dollars to fraud.
Digital thieves only need your name, address, and last four numbers of your social security number to apply for any loan or credit application. Digital applications for loans or credit cards require your personal information along with an electronic signature without any other verification that the name and social security number match the individual filling out the application. Common ways that identity theft can occur are by identity thieves rummaging through garbage to find paper with your personal information on it, through pop-ups or emails that pretend to be financial institutions asking for your personal information or by hacking into online accounts to retrieve your personal information.
Ignoring a debt that does not belong to you can present a long-term problem. Even if you are successful in reaching a settlement with the debt purchasing company, you could incur significant legal fees attempting to defend against the litigation. There are steps to safeguard yourself when being dragged into this type of litigation because, unfortunately, the burden is on us as consumers to prove we have been the victim of identity theft.
Often, the debt has been sold many times to different debt purchasers and, as a result, the company suing no longer has the original information to confirm you are the individual who originally applied for the loan or credit application. This includes information such as the original electronic signature confirmation document that confirms the identity of the original individual who signed for the loan or credit application.
This is when making sure all attempts to dispute the debt including reports with credit bureaus, the FTC, and local police become critical since consumers have the burden to prove they are the victim of identity theft by the legal standard of a preponderance of the evidence, which is more likely than not. If you promptly provided written notice to the company bringing suit that you were the victim of identity theft, including a copy of the police report, you may be able to obtain any actual damages as well as attorney’s fees and costs in successfully defending your case.
If you have provided the above notice and can prove that the company failed to diligently investigate your report of identity theft or that the company continued to pursue litigation after being presented with such facts, the debt collector may be liable for a civil penalty and damages up to $30,000. If you are not proactive in fending off such a debt collector, you could potentially face a judgment to pay for a debt that was the result of identity theft.
Victoria Martinez is a lifelong resident of SWFL and an attorney at Vernon Litigation Group. Ms. Martinez’s practice focuses exclusively on litigation, with a concentration in business, trust, and probate litigation in both federal and state courts, as well as arbitration.