Jackson Kelly PLLC

Bank Notes

What to tell customers when their most valuable possession has been stolen

February 14, 2020

By: Mark A. Mangano

Our identity is something we take for granted, until it is stolen.  As bankers we continually educate our customers on ways to protect their identities.  But what advice can we confidently offer our customers when their identities have been stolen?


According to the Federal Trade Commission, in 2018 identity theft was the third most reported form of consumer fraud behind imposter scams and debt collection fraud [1].  In 2014, an estimated 17.6 million people were victims of identity theft [2].  Each year data breaches release the personal nonpublic information of millions of Americans.  It is possible to have your identity stolen through no fault of your own.


Identity theft is the act of fraudulently obtaining and using another person’s identifying information or personal financial documents, such as a credit card or bank account, usually for the purpose of financial gain.  Identity thieves make use of stolen information in a variety of creative ways.  They may open credit in the name of a child, obtain medical insurance and care, adopt a child’s identity to conceal illegal activity, create a new “synthetic” identity using parts of a real identity, and open financial accounts.


Having your identity stolen is a bewildering experience.  You are approached by creditors demanding that you pay them or prove that you are not the “you” who owes the debt.  You wonder how it could have happened.  You wonder if the demand for payment is fraudulent.  You generally don’t know where to begin or who to trust.  A search of the web will reveal many companies willing to sell identity theft insurance and monitoring but not many that will help guide you through the process of reclaiming your identity.


Fortunately, there is a resource to which we can safely refer our clients and customers that will provide strait forward, reliable, and customized instructions and resources to help victims confront an identity theft event.  The resource is  www.identitytheft.gov/, a web site operated by The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC Site”).  The FTC Site is devoted to supporting those who believe that their identities have been compromised or stolen.  The site is operated by the federal government and is totally free.


The FTC Site steps the victim through the process of reclaiming their identity.  It begins by prompting the victim to describe the type of identity theft he or she has suffered.  It then builds a plan for correcting the records, verifying identity, limiting the potential for further theft, and monitoring for future attempts to misuse the victim’s identity.  The process is supported by standardized reports, letters and forms that will prefill with the victim’s basic information.  The victim is given instructions on the steps he or she must take to address many different types of identity theft.


The steps may include filing a complaint with the FTC, placing a fraud alert on credit reports with each of the three credit reporting companies, checking credit reports for any unauthorized accounts or transactions, changing passwords, removing collection references on credit reports related to fraudulent transactions, closing fraudulent accounts and corresponding with entities where the fraudulent identity was used.


The FTC Site also provides links to pages that explain a victim’s legal rights, describes the signs that an identity has been stolen, and provides instruction on what to do when personal information is lost, stolen, or involved in a large data breach.


The FTC Site also provides a direct link to the only government approved free credit reporting web site, www.annualcreditreport.com.  (Be careful accessing the credit reporting web site directly.  There are many impostors hoping you will incorrectly type the address.)


Particularly beneficial to financial institutions are educational materials relating to identity theft and how to prevent it.  The FTC Site provides printed guides for victims of military, medical, financial, and child identity theft.  The FTC will ship the guides to your bank for free so that you can make them available to your customers.


Helping your customers when they are facing significant personal challenges is what bankers do.  Providing victims of identity theft with advice on safe and reliable solutions is one the most important services you can provide.


Mark Mangano is counsel with Jackson Kelly PLLC.  Mark is an attorney focusing on strategic planning and corporate and banking matters.  He has 26 years of experience as the CEO and owner of a community bank.  mark.mangano@jacksonkelly.com.  304-284-4104


[1] Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2018 (February 2019).

[2] U.S. Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Victims of Identity Theft, 2014 (September 2015).


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