Identities are not borrowed, and neither are the financial gains, they are stolen. Identity theft has existed since the realization by man that sometimes crime does pay. For each advance in preventing identity theft, those determined to accomplish their means at the cost of others develop new methods. One of Dean’s earliest experiences to investigate identity theft involved a parent-child – as common today as it was then. Children do not have credit histories and transposing a birthdate is all it often took. For example, Jane Smith was born March 31, 1986 then became March 31, 1968. For several years I served civil pleadings on a father, who never faced a criminal charge – only civil collections. He did not have to file personal bankruptcy, it was not his debt; he did not feel guilt as he was not hurting anyone except large companies. He said he most often used the financial gains to keep his business afloat, a struggle due to gambling habits and losses – so it was really to fund his gambling. His activities went on so long, and at a time when there were few applicable laws, that his daughter entered college – or tried to. It turned out, to get financial aid, his wife also used their daughter’s identity and had an unresolved collection matter through the state college and student loan programs!
In the 1970s stealing and using a credit card for a week was easy, because the merchant guides of stolen credit cards were only updated weekly. In the 1980s it became theft of mail and redirecting credit cards to new addresses. It would take weeks to be alerted by the credit bureaus that your identity was stolen. In the 1990s, with the dawn of widespread consumer use of the Internet, it became easier for identity theft and less equal for the consumer. By the turn of the century the playing field became more level as fraud checks and alerts became nearly instantaneous – you might receive an automated phone call or text on your cell phone for unusual activity before you exited the store. This technology has still made it too easy for identity theft; and has added to the crimes that are committed concurrent with identity theft. No longer only a state criminal violation, but also a federal crime that may involve the US Postal Service or Federal Trade Commission, interference with communications and a host of other activities, that if caught, may impose significant restitution, fines and even incarceration upon the individual. Organized crime and cartels still operate the largest identity theft rings, but the theft of your identity may be as close as home – from your child to your spouse or sibling, even your neighbor.
Discovering familial / spousal identity theft
The discovery of familial or spousal identity theft – financial infidelity – is most often by accident; a reasonable person does not first assume a relative would steal their identity. Within our familial and spousal relationships we share and have mutual knowledge, and access, to all of the personal identifiers needed to accomplish identity theft. Reasons for doing so can range from personal need – such as a compulsive shopper or unexpected expenses (i.e. repairs) or such as bridging finances paycheck to paycheck to hard times; to slowly depleting the finances of another for one’s own personal gain and departure. Many of the steps to uncovering familial / spousal identity theft are the same as stranger identity theft, or a teenager hiding bad news from school, or marital infidelity. Some examples are:
-- Suddenly new cell phone number or email address;
-- Answers all phone calls and voicemails;
-- Sudden interest in checking the mail;
-- Suggests a PO Box or similar, or covertly opens one;
-- New spending habits and gifts, with concealment of means;
-- Suggestion of bankruptcy for seemingly manageable debt;
-- Concealment of daily activities.
-- Is familial / spousal identity theft a federal crime?
First, it is always a crime no matter who it is to steal your identity and to take funds that do not immediately belong to that person. It could be considered identity theft and some sort of interstate crime if the funds were technically transferred while held in one state and deposited in an account or given to another person in another state. Almost all credit card accounts originate in one state and are then locally used in another; or mail order using credits obtained fraudulently is an interstate offense. The use of interstate communications – from mail to opening an interstate account online may be a federal offense; from state and/or federal larceny to worse. These may carry significant fines, and as most are now felonies, potentially extended incarceration.
-- What constitutes identity theft?
Depending on your state's statutes, it could be considered a crime (state) if your family member or spouse stole only your password. Most criminal violations involve ‘knowingly’ and ‘intent’. Affirmative defenses, discussed below, most often depend on the knowledge and intent of the identity thief.
Here are some of the most Frequently Asked Questions:
-- What is Identity Theft?
-- How does the imposter take your identity?
-- Where does the impersonator get information about you?
-- How can you stop the fraud?
-- What if the police won’t take a report?
-- Should you change your social security number if you are a victim of identity-theft?
-- Should you cancel all your credit cards even if they have not been invaded by the imposter-just to be safe?
-- What if the information in my credit report is wrong?
These are answered at http://www.identitytheft.org/faq.htm
Right to review false account
Many victims of identity theft do not realize one of their most important advantages, once the identity theft has been discovered – to review any false accounts. Consider that the account(s) being opened in your name – not the identity thief’s – and that you may obtain control of it. Contact the financial institution and request complete documentation of the account – from being opened to the present. Following that, proceed with their steps to report the fraud and freeze the account internally. Next, follow the steps below to report the crimes and begin remedying your personal and financial identity.
One of the upper hands a victim of identity theft can have is to gain control of the account(s). Remember, these do not belong to the identity thief – except by fraud.
Like the right to review the false accounts, many victims of identity theft do not realize the data that may be at their fingertips – forensic computer evidence. Depending on your state laws, most home computers are jointly owned and used – there is no reasonable expectation of privacy to the access and use of the computer and joint email accounts. There may be, and likely is, a reasonable expectation of privacy for accounts that are not held jointly, or password protected areas of the computer. Changing the username and/or password of a joint email account – or any financial account – may be identity theft.
Forensic computer evidence has its limitations; however, these limitations are far beyond the scope of the perceptions most people have. Data uncovered and recovered may include images, emails, passwords, communications and … the opening and activity of fraudulent accounts. Consulting with an attorney and a forensic computer expert is advised. Helpful information can be found at http://www.ontrackdatarecovery.ca/computer-forensics
Federal and State violations
The Federal Trade Commission is responsible for the regulatory oversight of businesses and business-to-consumer relationships and activities. The FTC states, “Identity theft happens when someone steals your personal information and uses it without your permission. It’s a serious crime that can wreak havoc with your finances, credit history, and reputation — and can take time, money, and patience to resolve.” They have a comprehensive list of crimes, preventions and remedies for identity theft, including the continuing rise of familial / spousal identity theft, at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft
The Colorado Attorney General has a comprehensive list of steps to report, restore and remedy identity, and prevent future issues. Your state attorney general’s office is a good start in determining the criminal activities. This resource is at http://www.coloradoattorneygeneral.gov/initiatives/identity_theft/victim_resources
Affirmative Defenses (from intent to paid to unfound accounts)
As previously noted, most criminal violations involve ‘knowingly’ and ‘intent’. The ‘knowingly’ exists at the inception of the act – opening the account, altering the account, etc. Affirmative defenses most often depend on the knowledge and intent of the identity thief. Excuses are not an affirmative defense. The purchasing of gifts from – essentially your account – is not an affirmative defense. The payment of the credit card or other bills is not an affirmative defense. The closing of the account, even if paid in full, is not an affirmative defense. Identity theft is fraud and fraud is a crime.
The only legitimate affirmative defense to identity theft is that it did not happen. This may be if the account(s) opened are joint and with the consent and knowledge of the co-signor.
Consequences of familial / spousal identity theft
Adult/Child Victims typically find out in the same manner as adult victims of identity theft, when they:
-- Are denied credit, mortgage or loan for a vehicle or college tuition
-- Are unable to open a bank or checking account
-- Receive collection notices in the mail or by telephone
-- Are denied tenancy, utility or phone service
-- Are denied driver’s license renewal
-- Are discharged from a job or continually and unexplainably denied employment
-- Have been receiving bills or credit cards they never requested, perhaps for years
-- Are arrested for an activity they never committed
-- Are denied SSI or welfare services
Remedies and Restitution
The most common myth is that the most identity theft crimes end when the identity thief no longer uses or benefits from the fraudulent account - which may be months to years until being discovered. Both federal ans state statutes vary, and apply differently. What is common is that the statute of limitation for reporting and prosecuting these crimes begin when the criminal act is discovered. To begin the long process of remedy and restitution, and protection, here are some tips:
-- Report the identity theft to the local police, state consumer advocate (most often the Attorney General), US Postal Inspector, the three major credit bureaus, and make a fraud report with the finance company.
-- Any financial accounts may be governed by the rules and protections of the Federal Reserve and should also be reported to the Federal Reserve.
-- Consider consulting an attorney to protect yourself from wage garnishments, account seizures and collection activities.
-- Make a report to the Federal Trade Commission for Consumer Protection. Both the financial institution and the identity thief may have violated any of several federal laws intended to protect consumer finances. These include the Graham Leach Bliley Act, Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, Fair Credit Reporting Act
The contact information for the fraud departments of the three credit bureaus are:
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374
Consumer Fraud Division
P.O. Box 9530
Allen, TX 75013
National Consumer Assistance
P.O. Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92834
Fraud Victim Assistance Dept.
Subscribing to an identity theft protection service, available independently or through most major credit card services, will also add a layer of protection. These services actively monitor accounts for unusual activity, new accounts opened, and offer both financial protections and remedy assistance should you become a victim of identity theft. Identity theft is fraud and it is a crime – as long as the thief ‘knowingly’ and ‘willingly’ used your personal identifiers with the ‘intent’ for personal financial gain.
To summarize the steps to remedying and restoring your identity:
Step 1: Contact your bank and other credit card issuers;
Step 2: File a report with your local law enforcement agency;
Step 3: File a report with the Federal Trade Commission;
Step 4: Contact all three major credit reporting bureaus;
Step 5: Contact all of your creditors by phone and in writing;
Step 6: Notify the phone company;
Step 7: Notify the post office;
Step 8: Notify the Social Security Administration;
Step 9: Notify the State Department (international identity theft is still the most prevalent); and
Step 10: Protect yourself if contacted by a collection agency or collection attorney.
For details of these steps and contact information, visit http://www.coloradoattorneygeneral.gov/initiatives/identity_theft/victim_resources
Dean lectured extensively on identity theft and prevention for 18 years to investigators, consumers, senior citizens, attorneys and consumer advocate agencies. Through the agency they continue to provide these services. National Private Investigators Day is July 24, 2014 and the theme is 'The Passionate Search for the Facts' - details at http://www.deathcasereview.com/national-pi-day.html
© July 2014 by Associates in Forensic Investigations, LLC
A licensed, bonded and insured Rocky Mountain West Agency (CO, WY & SD)
Expert Consultants and Legal Investigators
Personal Injury, Negligence & Death in Civil, Criminal and Probate Litigation
Dean A. Beers, CLI, CCDI and Karen S. Beers, BSW, CCDI
Cheyenne WY Licensed Private Investigators (No. OL-15-31146)
Board Certified Legal Investigator / Expert
Board Certified Criminal Defense Investigators
Certified in Medicolegal Death Investigations / former Deputy Coroners
WY - (307) 222-0136 Office and (307) 222-0138 Fax
CO - (970) 480-7793 Office and (970) 480-7794 Fax
'Quaero Indicium' - To Find The Evidence
Dean A. Beers, CLI, CCDI began his investigative career in 1987. He is a Certified Legal Investigator and Certified Criminal Defense Investigator, and expert consultant / witness in criminal defense homicide and civil equivocal death investigations. He is certified in Medicolegal Death Investigations and is a POST certified instructor, and experienced forensic autopsy assistant.
He has lectured extensively and authored multiple articles, peer-reviewed white papers, and provided expert testimony on Protocols of Private Investigation, and Forensic Investigations of Injury Pattern Analysis (including Blood Pattern Analysis) and Death Investigations (including Protocols and Standards), as well as consulted as a subject matter expert in Equivocal Death Analysis, Injury Causation, Time of Death, Crime Scene Analysis, Investigative Protocol, Evidence Protocol, and Forensic Photography.
Karen S. Beers, BSW, CCDI, began her investigative career in 1996, also earning her Bachelor's in Social Work from Colorado State University (Magna Cum Laude). She is also a Certified Criminal Defense Investigator (CCDI) and certified in Medicolegal Death Investigations. In addition to be a subject matter expert in death investigations, her background, education and experience with victim advocacy and counseling are valuable assets in working with families and victims of traumatic events.
As a death investigator Karen was involved in the investigations of all manners of deaths and incidents, training under three Forensic Pathologists. From 2004-2006 she investigated and assisted with numerous death cases and scenes, and assisted with forensic autopsies.
As Team Beers, they have authored two professional books, developed a professional distance learning course and authored over two dozen published articles and white papers that include multiple peer-reviewed and association award winning articles. provide Expert Consultations and Legal Investigations of Death and Injury Causation in Civil, Criminal and Probate litigation – Together We’re Better!