Figuring out jurisdictional issues in cases of identity theft can be a nightmare. Many law enforcement agencies don't have the personnel to pursue these complicated cases or lack officer training in this arena. Recently, I spoke to some ID theft victims, and a troubling number found the road blocks within law enforcement frustrating and beyond their control.
One ID theft victim, whose information was accessed and stolen by a fellow employee at the company where he works, said he and the other 700 victims were not told their personal information had been compromised until months after it occurred. The reason given — the case was under investigation — was valid. But the victims were uncomfortable with the idea that the perpetrator had plenty of time to ruin their lives without them even knowing. Seems there has to be some kind of compromise here.
Another problem frequently mentioned is the paradox between financial institutions and law enforcement: Police wouldn't take a report without documentation from the financial institution, and the financial institution wouldn't give them documentation without a police report.
Take a look at this much abbreviated sequence of events surrounding the ID theft case of a young couple who are still trying to get help. The husband is a recently reactivated member of the National Guard and former Marine who lost his wallet a decade ago in Texas. In 2000, he went to get a North Carolina driver's license and was told he had several outstanding tickets in places he'd never been before. That was his first clue that something was wrong. Since then the couple has dealt with their city police, the state attorney general's office, the Internal Revenue Service, Immigration and Naturalization (the perpetrator is an illegal alien), the police departments of two additional North Carolina cities, the sheriff's departments of at least two counties, authorities in the state of Texas, the FBI, the State Bureau of Investigation, the Social Security Administration, their congressman (Walter Jones, R-NC), a federal prosecutor and a taxpayer's advocate.
After 10 years of writing statements, submitting documents, traveling all over the state and talking with law enforcement and other government agencies, only to be told time and time again that the matter wasn't within an agency's jurisdiction, the couple is tired, disgusted and no better off. To add insult to injury, once the pair filed reports with a couple of the federal agencies, they were denied access to criminal-generated information put in their files because to give them the information would "violate the rights" of the thief. You heard me right. Authorities were worried the illegal alien whose criminal acts have turned their lives into hell would suffer from a violation of privacy if the victims received information on how and where the criminal was using the stolen identity.
While a few officials in this ridiculous story were helpful and did what they could to aid the couple, after fighting with the IRS over taxes they could prove they did not owe, they just received a tax bill for $33,000 owed by — you guessed it — the thief. Now they're back in the cycle again.
How do things get so far out of hand? Especially when there is new ID theft legislation on the books? (And, as a criminal justice professor and former police officer pointed out to me, there are already plenty of existing statutes that can address these crimes. In North Carolina, we called them things like "forgery and uttering" and "obtaining property by false pretenses.")
There is no reason that someone who is willing to risk his life for our country should have to worry about fighting to protect his family's financial well-being when he's busy trying not to get himself and his fellow soldiers killed. This case is both a shame and a disgrace.
A 12-year veteran of police work, Carole Moore has served in patrol, forensics, crime prevention and criminal investigations, and has extensive training in many law enforcement disciplines. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.