Investigative Process - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Q: What is identity theft?
A: Identity theft involves acquiring key pieces of someones identifying information, such as the name, address, date of birth, social security number, drivers license number, biographical attributes, or electronic addresses and numbers, in order to impersonate them. Identity thieves obtain this information primarily to commit various forms of fraud and obtain money, goods or services. In Texas, the Fraudulent Use or Possession of Identifying Information is a State Jail Felony (Penal Code, §32.51).
Q: If I become a victim of identity theft, what can I expect?
A: The investigation of identity theft crimes is a time-consuming process. Many of the investigations require documentary evidence, which can take time to compile. For victims of identity theft, the immediate priority is to prevent and minimize further harm. The Financial Crimes Unit has prepared a Victim Information Letter to advise victims of the appropriate steps necessary to initiate that process.
Q: Will the person who stole my identity be charged?
A: The Houston Police Department and the Harris County District Attorneys Office must work within the guidelines set forth by the Texas Penal Code; therefore, investigators can only file charges on suspect(s) if your case has sufficient evidence to establish the elements of the offense and the identity of the offender.
Q: Am I financially responsible for the forged checks or fraudulent credit transactions?
A: As a general rule, and provided you act with due diligence, no. In most cases, the account holder is not held financially responsible for losses as a result of fraudulent activity. Normally, the business who accepted the fraudulent transaction is the loss victim. However, if you become aware of fraudulent activity or should have been aware of the activity and do not report the fraud to the bank or credit card company within a reasonable period of time, the bank/credit card company may hold you responsible.
Q: I have gotten notices from merchants demanding payment of returned checks I did not write or credit balances I did not incur. What should I do?
A: First, review and follow the information in the Victim Information Letter. Advise the business/merchant that the transactions involved were fraudulent and encourage the merchant to report the incident to the police.
Q: What kind of evidence establishes the elements of the offense?
A: That depends on the offense. Often, documentary evidence is required. The nature of the evidence depends on the crime, but in all cases, original documents or certified copies are required. In credit card / debit card abuse cases, original receipts or computer records documenting the transaction are required. In instances where identifying information has been used, the original or certified document, completed by and upon which the offender used the identifying information, must be provided to the police.
Q: What kind of evidence establishes the identity of the offender?
A: A witness or evidence must be obtained to identify or lead to the identification of a suspect. There are several means of establishing the identity of the offender. They are as follows:
- Positive identification of a suspect by a reliable witness. The witness must testify in any court proceedings.
- Positive identification of the suspects fingerprint impressions. Recorded (inked) impressions must have been made at the time of the offense in the presence of a witness.
- The video image of a suspect, committing the offense, with a supporting identifying document. A video image alone is insufficient. The video image must have sufficient resolution and clarity to clearly identify the offender. Additionally, the offenders identity must be established by comparison with an identifying photograph (booking or drivers license photo) or by a witness to whom the suspect is known by sight and name. The videotapes must be dated and time stamped reflecting the exact time and date the offense was committed.
- Written confessions made by suspects to a law enforcement agency. If the suspect confessed to the victim verbally or in writing, the suspect must also provide a confession to the police.
Q: Someone ordered merchandise by mail/Internet and I have the address where it was delivered. What can be done?
A: The individual who lives at a reported address cannot automatically be charged with the offense. We must prove that the person living at the location was the individual who used your information. A witness must be able to make a positive identification of the suspect from a photo array. Frequently, the addresses to which fraudulently ordered packages are delivered are vacant residences; often, the driver leaves packages at the residence, and the offender later recovers the packages.
Q: My bank has sent me cancelled checks, which I did not write or authorize. What should I do?
A: If you have not already reported the fraudulent activity, make a police report. Return the checks to the bank and provide the bank with a forgery affidavit and the police report number. The bank will then return the checks to the bank/business/merchant who accepted the check.
Q: Someone has been forging my name on stolen or counterfeit checks. I know one of the checks was cashed at a merchant that had video. What will happen?
A: Each check passed or presented for passing is a separate offense. That incident will be investigated when the merchant reports the offense. If video images of the offense are available, the merchant should provide the evidence to the police. Keep in mind, there must be some means of establishing the identity of the suspect in the video.
Q: When someone forged my checks, the persons drivers license number was recorded? Why isnt that good enough to establish their identity?
A: Frequently, offenders will assume stolen or fake identities when cashing a forged check. Often, offenders use fake identification with either fictitious information or another persons information.