In response to the growing scourge of identity theft, California enacted its own Identity Theft Law in 2001. The law provides civil remedies to consumers in addition to the criminal remedies against the actual identity thieves.
As a practical matter, there is frequently little point in bringing a civil lawsuit against an identity thief. If the thief is some computer hacker or is otherwise a career criminal, a civil judgment against him or her will be meaningless. More frequently, we are seeing that the identity thieves are family members, and most victims of identity thefts are unwilling to pursue criminal prosecution against a family member even if he, or she, did commit a crime.
The California Identity Theft law has a very specific function: it gives victims of identity theft a civil remedy against creditors and debt collectors who refuse to cancel identity theft accounts. For instance, let’s say Mary is a victim of identity theft because some company did not secure her personal information and it was stolen. She files her police report and contacts the credit bureaus to notify them of the identity theft. She also contacts all of the creditors of the identity theft accounts (not the creditors of her genuine accounts) and requests that they cancel the accounts because of the identity theft. Several of them do. However, one or two hold out and continue to try to collect on the accounts even after they have been advised of the identity theft situation. They may even sue Mary even though they have been told about the identity theft.
As to these “hold-out” creditors, the victim of identity theft really had limited remedies before the passage of the California Identity Theft law. Defending, and winning, a patently frivolous lawsuit is costly in terms of both time and money, and many consumers faced the dilemma of spending more money to fight than they would spend to settle a frivolous and fraudulent claim. Moreover, traditional common-law legal theories really did not fit well with the growing scourge of identity thefts, and the fact that victims of identity theft badly needed to restore their credit and financial balance to their lives to fully recover and move on.
The California Identity Theft Law permits victims of identity theft to pursue a vast and effective array of remedies against creditors or debt collectors who do not cancel identity theft accounts. The victims can get all of their actual damages, including emotional distress damages; they can get a court order canceling their identity theft accounts and dismissing any lawsuits brought against them for identity theft accounts; they can get their attorney’s fees paid by the “hold-out” creditors or debt collectors and they can even obtain a $ 30,000 civil penalty under certain circumstances. It is a law that all California consumers need to know about.
The legal citation to the law is California Civil Code, Sections 1798.92 through 1798.97.
Here is what California consumers need to know to make the Identity Theft Law work for them:
1.You need to file a police report and/or a Federal Trade Commission fraud affidavit as soon as you learn of the identity theft. If you have trouble getting your local police to accept an identity theft police report, go to www.ftc.gov for an Identity Theft affidavit, or see the main article on our website about handling identity theft. This article has specific steps you will need to use if your local police department refuses to take your identity theft police report.
2.Send a copy of the police report to the creditor or creditors (or debt collectors), advising them of the known details of the identity theft and requesting that they cancel the identity theft accounts.
3.You must give the creditor or debt collector 30 days to cancel the account and/or dismiss the lawsuit. Sometimes they will request more information from you; if they do, provide it to them. If they do not act within 30 days, or they refuse to cancel the account, then you need to contact our law firm immediately for a free case review and consultation.
4.Remember to keep all correspondence via certified mail, return receipt requested, and obviously keep copies of everything you send and receive. This will not only help us evaluate your case, but these letters are frequently the very best evidence in any claim for a violation of the California Identity Theft Law.