Beware of Criminal Identity Theft!

Criminal identity theft, also known as “criminal identity fraud” fortunately is rare. Once your name ends up in a criminal records database, it can be excruciatingly slow to clear your name. The criminal justice system is of little help to victims whose names end up in the system because of identity theft. Like most legal problems, this usually requires the services of an attorney and in some cases, a private investigator. Successful lawsuits have been won.

The most common scenario is where the imposter will give the victim’s identity to an officer-of-the-law say during a traffic citation, or misdemeanor arrest, often in the form of a phony or stolen ID, or “borrow” the victim’s name an alias, then skip town, failing to pay the fine or make his required court appearance. In some cases, DUIs and felonies were committed in the victim’s name. Nearly always, the imposter is known to the victim, usually a friend or relative. Often, the two will be close in age and physical appearance, good reason to be careful how you choose your friends.

You might be out driving on road one night, then find yourself being tailed then pulled over by a cop “Woooop!!! wooooop!!!” then getting arrested for outstanding warrants, booked at the county jail, strip searched, fingerprinted, and maybe spent the weekend in the slammer. When go before the judge, you’re told you’re free to go, all charges dropped because it turns out you’re not the person they were looking for.

Unfortunately, the criminal justice system does not yet have a decent contingency plan in place to clear an innocent person’s name. The burdon of clearing one’s name lies mostly with the accused, sometimes with steep attorney’s fees.

Procedures to clear your name from criminal databases varies according to state, or even individual counties. Some states already have special procedures in place for victims of criminal identity theft. Ask your state Attorney General’s office.

If wrongful criminal offenses are linked to your name, first contact the original arresting police/sheriff’s department who originally arrested the impostor, or else the court who issued the arrest warrant and file an impersonation report with them, and confirm your identity. Ask the police department to take your fingerprints, photograph you, and make official copies of your photo IDs, I.e.: driver’s license, passport, etc.. To claim your innocence, ask the police to compare your fingerprints and photos with the imposter’s.

Maintain a detailed log of all your phone conversions, paperwork, email messages, contacts, etc.. Keep a detailed record of all your expenses incurred. When writing the authorities you should always use certified mail with return receipt. Email is generally not considered secure for sending confidential private information, so it’s not recommended if you can avoid it. The rule is never send out something via email that would not want to share with the public. Changing your social security number is rarely recommended as that usually causes more problems than it solves.

If the arrest warrant is from another state or county, ask your local police dept. to forward your impersonation report to the agency of the jurisdiction where the arrest warrant, traffic citation, or criminal conviction originated.

The police/sheriff’s dept should recall any arrest warrants and issue you a clearance letter or certificate of release in the event you were arrested and booked. It’s essential to keep this document with you at all times in case you might be falsely arrested again. Have official copies made at the courthouse, in case it gets lost. Ask the agency to file the record of the follow-up investigation establishing your innocence at the D.A’s office and/or the court in the jurisdiction where the crime occurred. This will result in an amended complaint. Unfortunately once your name ends up in a criminal database, it’s difficult to get it completely removed. Ask that the key name or primary name be changed from yours to the imposter’s name, or else to “John Doe” if the imposter’s true identity is unknown, with your name noted as an alias.

You will also want to clear your name within the court records. Determine which state law(s) will help you with this and how. If your state has no formal procedure for clearing your record, contact the D.A.’s office in the county where the case was originally prosecuted. Ask the D.A.’s office for the appropriate court records needed to clear your name. Unfortunately in some situations, you may have no choice but to hire an attorney to help you clear your good name. You may want to ask your state DMV if your driver’s license was used by the imposter. Ask them to flag your files for possible fraud.

Your best defense is to pick your friends carefully and safeguard your drivers license, other licenses, passport and of course any other personal information that would be attractive to an identity thief.

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