Identity theft is a growing problem in our country, and while there are millions of people victimized by the crime, perhaps more widespread than the number of actual identity thefts is the fear of being victimized by one. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, and as modes of communication and e-technology become more advanced by the day, the exposure of one’s personal information – whether a Social Security number, an address, or a password – can weigh heavy on the mind.
Many people over the course of the last decade have wisely heeded the advice of consumer advocates, legislators, and law enforcement agencies in taking steps to guard against having personal information stolen in the first place. Obviously, when you suspect that your personal information has been breached, guarding against fraud and protecting or repairing your credit is tantamount. The Federal Trade Commission website provides guidance on those fronts: www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft//. Other websites providing useful advice and resources for victims of personal information exposure or identity theft include www.idtheft.gov, www.idtheftcenter.org, and www.privacyrights.org.
But what legal recourse is there in the event of a personal information breach or identity theft? While the law, in many respects, seems still to be trying to catch up to the information age and to the reality and prevalence of identity theft, there are remedies. Certainly, identity theft can be prosecuted criminally, under federal law or Pennsylvania law, both of which specifically criminalize “identity theft.” See 18 U.S.C. §§ 1028, 1028A, 1029, 1030; 18 Pa.C.S. § 4120. Pennsylvania law also specifically allows for restitution to victims of an identity theft. See 42 Pa.C.S. § 9720.1.
There are civil avenues as well. For instance, assuming that the actual identity thief can be ascertained – or even better, has already been apprehended and/or prosecuted – a victim might proceed under Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act, see 73 P.S. § 201-2, or simply bring an action sounding in common law fraud. As against a company that negligently discloses personal information or allows it be stolen, a common law negligence claim might lie, although there is currently no State statutory remedy providing a right of action. Furthermore, 43 P.S. § 2301 creates a cause of action against any entity that fails to timely notify citizens of a breach of personal information, although only the Pennsylvania Attorney General has standing to pursue such an action.
If you are a Pennsylvania resident who has been the victim of an identity theft, please feel free to contact an attorney at www.pbmattorneys.com or at 1-888-34-TORTS (86787).