Identity Theft Victims Should Always Obtain a Police Report

Identity theft often results in accounts showing up on the victim’s credit reports. When that happens, a first step is to go to the local police to report the theft and get a report. A next step is to send a copy of the report to each of the credit bureaus with a letter asking that the fraudster’s accounts be deleted.

Police reports are important in this process because under the FCRA, 15 U.S.C. § 1681c-2, a credit bureau must block the reporting of any incorrect information in a consumer’s file upon receiving: “(1) appropriate proof of the identity of the consumer; (2) a copy of an identity theft report; (3) the identification of the information by the consumer; and (4) a statement by the consumer that the information is not information relating to any transaction by the consumer.”

A consumer in a lawsuit against a credit agency known as Early Warning System lost the case because he failed to file an “identity theft report” to the bureau. The judge explained that the FCRA defines that term precisely. To qualify, the report must be a document meeting the following conditions: “(A) that alleges an identity theft; (B) that is a copy of an official, valid report filed by a consumer with an appropriate . . . law enforcement agency . . .; and (C) the filing of which subjects the person filing the report to criminal penalties relating to the filing of false information if, in fact, the information in the report is false.” 15 U.S.C. § 1681a.

The consumer never filed a report with the police. Instead, he relied on a report that a Maryland county police department wrote. The consumer said he sent a copy to EWS, but the court said that did not suffice. “The obstacle Thomas faces is that this report cannot qualify as an “identity theft report” under § 1681a because it was not “filed by a consumer.”

The court explained that an identity theft report must be “an official, valid report filed by a consumer with an appropriate . . . law enforcement agency.” A “consumer” is defined as “an individual.” 15 U.S.C. § 1681a. The police department is not “an individual” and therefore cannot be a “consumer” as defined by the statute. Because the police report was not “filed by a consumer,” it is not an “identity theft report” under 15 U.S.C. § 1681a. Without receipt of an “identity theft report,” EWS did not have a duty to block the reporting of the incorrect information. Thomas v. Early Warning Services, LLC. (District Court, MD 2012).

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