The Civil Side of Identity Theft

Each year almost thirty million Americans are victims of identity theft.  This can range from someone simply identifying themselves as someone they aren’t, all the way to stealing someone’s personal information for financial gain.  Identity theft is a crime, and the consequences of this crime can sometimes extend far beyond the criminal act itself.  Victims can often times be left with expenses the criminal left behind, such as medical procedures, goods and services, and the destruction of their credit.  However, there are also the direct costs to the victim, which can include replacing identifying documents, lost wages, attorney fees, and even counseling.

Restitution
As with most crimes, when someone is convicted of the crime the court may award restitution for the victim.  Unfortunately, even though the court orders restitution to the victim of a crime it is often not collected.  This lack of enforcement, or inability to enforce, combined with limitations on the type of damages that may be included in a restitution order, often results in restitution falling far short of making the victim whole again.

Most states also have some sort of crime victim compensation fund.  These are designed to assist victims with some expenses related to the crime they were a victim of.  The amount of restitution from these funds can be limited to certain types of crime, or certain types of expenses.  For these reasons there is still a strong possibility that victims of identity theft will still end up being subjected to continued victimization as they try to set their lives straight again.

Civil Actions Can Help.
While restitution and victim compensation funds can help, they often do not cover a victim’s full economic loss.  Neither of these routes can pay anything for hard-to-quantify damages.  A civil lawsuit based on identity theft may provide more complete compensation and recovery for the victim.  Utah has a specific statute establishing a cause of action for identity theft Some of the benefits of a civil action include:

  • Control of the Case: In civil actions the victim has greater control of the proceedings, and ultimately has final approval over any settlement decision.
  • Compensation: Civil actions allow for greater compensation and on a wider variety of types of recovery.
  • Crime Prevention: In addition to suing the perpetrator, victims can often use a civil suit to hold other parties responsible. These suits may offer economic incentive for private businesses, such as hotels, car dealerships, shopping centers, etc., to take steps to properly secure customers’ private information.  When private businesses are held accountable, the costs for proper security become less expensive than defending suits.  Civil lawsuits for identity theft can lead to increased security protection in public places, better oversight and supervision over private customer information, and many other similar improvements.

Damages
While criminal courts can order restitution for certain crimes and expenses, juries and judges in civil actions have much greater flexibility in awarding types of damages and the amount of those damages.  There are two main types of damages: compensatory and punitive.  Compensatory damages are intended to pay for the actual losses incurred by the victim.  Punitive damages are primarily used to punish and deter perpetrators and third parties.  Under the Utah statute, damages can include compensatory damages of $1,000, or up to three times the amount of actual damages, whichever is greater.  Identity theft victims in Utah may also be able to recover additional punitive damages.

Contact an Attorney
Anyone who is a victim of identity theft in Utah may have a civil claim for recovery.  If you believe that you or someone you know has been the victim of identity theft in Utah, contact the experienced attorneys at Hepworth, Murray & Associates for a free consultation.

Michael Hepworth

Michael Hepworth

Managing Attorney at Hepworth & Associates
Michael is the Managing Attorney of Hepworth & Associates, LLC.
Michael Hepworth

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