What is Identity Theft? What Options Do You Have to Fight Back in New York?

Identity theft is a nightmare for many reasons.   There is the trauma of having one’s identity stolen, the violation of one’s privacy, a diminished or ruined credit rating, and of course countless valuable hours spent trying to clean up a mess someone else started.  The damage and the hassle really makes you want to get justice, doesn’t it?  But who do you sue?  After all, the wrongdoer is pretending to be you.  While identifying the law-breaking party may ultimately prove important, there are legal steps you can take now to fight for your justice.  This purpose of this post is to shed light on identity theft, and inform consumers of vital steps to take in the immediate aftermath of the crime’s occurrence.


Understanding New York Identity Theft Laws

There are both state and federal laws against identify theft.  In New York, one is guilty of the crime of identity theft when he or she takes on the identity of another individual knowingly and with the intent to commit fraud by holding himself or herself out as that person, or by acting as that other person or through misusing personal identification information of that other person, and engages in one of the following two acts:


1. obtains goods, money, property or services or uses credit in the name of the other person or otherwise causes financial loss, or;


2. commits a class A misdemeanor or higher level crime.


In New York, as in other states, identity theft may be classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the extent of financial loss caused.  While causation of financial loss of $500 or less will result in a misdemeanor charge, a class E felony (second-degree identity theft) charge will result in the event the total amount of goods, money, credit, property or services, or other financial loss exceeds $500.  This distinction is important, as a felony conviction brings very serious consequences, including jail time, fines, loss of voting rights, and difficulty obtaining employment.  Increased felony charges (first-degree and/or class D) may also result from causation of financial loss, if the identity theft occurred in conjunction with commission of another felony.


First Steps To Take In the Wake of Identity Theft In New York

If you suspect you have been the victim of identity theft, there are important steps that you need to take.  The nasty part of identity theft is that someone else is pretending to be you – spending your money or credit under the pretense that they are in fact you.  As such, you need to alert 1) your financial institutions (e.g. banks, credit card companies), 2) the credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion), and 3) the police.  In addition, you need to keep a written record of these communications, and fill out an Identity Theft Victim’s Complaint and Affidavit.  Finally, you may benefit from consulting with an experienced New York consumer protection attorney.