Other evidence of identity theft surfaced as Peterson was contacted by additional creditors checking on applications. After closing every business and personal account she had, Peterson zeroed in on a bookkeeper she used. She cut ties with the woman and contacted a law enforcement agency. Because the bookkeeper was now in a different county, Peterson was told they couldn't take the report.
Although the perpetrator was finally arrested, charged, tried and sentenced in connection with numerous frauds committed against a number of nonprofits, Peterson says prosecution didn't even put the culprit out of business. As for Peterson, "This experience was a huge time, energy and faith drain," she says.
File a police report
Back in 1991 when Maria Canul's purse was stolen from a computer lab at San Jose State University, she took her bank's word that everything was taken care of. At the time she didn't realize she needed to report the incident to the police. "I thought I only had to call the police if I was mugged or robbed," Canul says.
That's a common misconception, but even someone who has tried to report an identity crime, like Southern California resident Stevie Wilson, can get caught up in official rigmarole. When a thief tried to use Wilson's information to open accounts, Wilson went to the police. Police took the information, but refused to file an actual report.
"I couldn't file a police report because they said I hadn't suffered any loss," she says.
What's faulty about this logic is that in most jurisdictions, attempting a crime is also a crime. Simply because something (like a quick response from the victim) thwarts the crook is not grounds to dismiss the entire matter out-of-hand, Burke says. Think about it: If someone took a shot at you, would police arrest the shooter only if he hit you?
A review of federal and state Web sites, particularly those of the Federal Trade Commission, FBI and dozens of state attorneys general, turns up tons of information on what to do if you're the victim of ID theft. But few, if any, exhibit any willingness to get involved in the garden variety, small-potatoes cases that comprise the majority of these crimes.
While new laws might make it a little easier to file a report, it's a sure bet that a lot of officers aren't even aware they have jurisdiction in these cases.
The best advice: File that report. If they won't take it, try to find someone who will. Keep pushing up the chain of command until you find someone who understands the law. Hire an attorney to protect your rights, if necessary. And, of course, document every move you make and every person with whom you speak.
Former police officer and criminal investigator Carole Moore is a contributing editor at Law Enforcement Technology Magazine.