In a recent (October 2012) article in Police Chief Magazine, Ed Dadisho, a sergeant for the Los Angeles Police Department, succinctly outlines some of the unique challenges Identity Theft poses for both law enforcement and the communities they serve.
“Identity theft crimes differ from the traditional crimes law enforcement investigates. Unlike a regular theft investigation, where police may use tools such as fingerprint kits, canvassing the neighborhood, and interviewing witnesses, identity theft investigation is exceptional in that there are no witnesses or physical evidence at the crime scene. In fact, the crime scene may be thousands of miles away from where the victim resides….Some of these investigations are difficult because they may involve jurisdiction issues. For example, the victim may live in one state, but the charge on the victim’s account may have been committed in another state.”
Dadisho’s observations here are important. He’s correctly identified some primary issues law enforcement, and by extension the community, is forced to face when attempting to mitigate the ever-growing crime of identity theft. Identity theft is unlike traditional crimes and therefore cannot usually be investigated with traditional crime solving methodology. In addition, law enforcement officers (LEOs) are often not given proper information regarding the necessity of a police report for victim mitigation. Mitigation of this type of case requires greater cooperation between the individual victims, the law enforcement community, and the financial institutions and other entities that also become victims by proxy of these crimes.
The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), a nationally recognized non-profit organization that handles approximately 10,000 identity theft victim cases annually, has seen these issues increase over the years. ITRC has undertaken the task of working with LEO’s and the communities they serve in order to enhance everyone’s understanding and cooperation, all in an effort to mitigate the damage done to victims by this crime.
According to Rex Davis, ITRC Director of Operations, “we attempt to bring the victim and law enforcement together through greater understanding of the issues in order to improve communication and cooperation. The biggest issue for the victim is mitigating the damage done to them by their identity thieves.”
Often, victims are emotionally distraught and focused primarily on catching the perpetrator, rather than restoring the integrity of their personal information and privacy. ITRC Victim Advisors help them understand that these are two entirely separate objectives, and that the primary area of their focus needs to be on mitigation. From the LEO’s perspective, officers are often reluctant to file police reports for identity theft crimes. In some cases they may believe it’s only adding paperwork and caseload in instances where the bad guy most likely will not be caught. As Sergeant Dashido correctly points out, “jurisdiction issues can be confusing for law enforcement agencies that are not familiar with identity theft law, or do not have departmental procedures for receiving and investigating complaints of identity theft.” As a result, police may refer victims to file a report in the jurisdiction where the crime occurred, which may or may not even be within U.S. borders. LEO’s and victims alike often fail to understand that the greatest value a police report has for a victim is not the opening of a criminal investigation. The true value of a police report is that it is a necessity to establish the victim’s credibility with merchants and creditors who may be holding them accountable for debts and actions they themselves did not take. A police report is needed for a victim to have protection under various federal laws, and is the single greatest weapon they have in restoring their good name. This critical fact is what the ITRC has promoted to both law enforcement and the victim population alike for over 10 years.
According to Sgt. Dashido, “It is also imperative that law enforcement agencies begin a community awareness program to fully educate the public on identity theft prevention, and the process if identity theft does occur.” Again, the ITRC fully supports this view, and this is why we both must work with the victim population, as well as seek to educate the public on identity theft issues. The ITRC works to shift the victim’s focus from criminal apprehension to restoring the victim’s good name. We explain to them the value of their police report and calibrate their expectations to more closely conform to what assistance can be realistically expected from various parties involved, including LEO’s. For law enforcement, ITRC works to make them aware of what the true value of this police report is to the victim; to make LEO’s aware that not every report need require them to launch a thorough investigation; and that sometimes just having the complaint on file makes all the difference to the victim.
Education, managing expectations, and focusing victims and law enforcement alike on the primary issues that can help case mitigation are the main areas of focus of the ITRC in identity theft cases. Facilitating communication and enhancing cooperation between LEO’s and identity theft victims will serve to lighten the load on law enforcement.
All ITRC consumer and victim services are toll-free and free of charge. The website, www.idtheftcenter.org, provides ITRC Fact Sheets, solutions, and letter forms, which can be freely used by law enforcement agencies. ITRC Victim advisors are also available to speak to law enforcement officers 8:00 AM–4:30 PM Pacific, Monday–Friday at 1.888.400.5530.
ITRC Criminal Case Advisor
Sam Imandoust, Esq.
ITRC Legal Analyst
In collaboration with Melissa Bradley, COPS Office
Collaborating for Healthier Children, Stronger Families, and Safer Communities | The Cop Who Got Fired | Heroes Behind the Badge | Bridging the Gap: Law Enforcement, ITRC, and the Public | Did you know…?