Red Flags That Indicate a Theft May Have Taken Place

Red Flags That Indicate a Theft May Have Taken Place

The Federal Trade Commission (2011) emphasizes the impor- tance of early detection as a way to minimize harm. It suggests that consumers monitor their accounts regularly and be on the alert for any suspicious activities, such as the following signs that impostors may have recently stolen their identities:

Unfamiliar or suspicious debits, purchases, and cash withdrawals appear on accounts.

Inaccurate information appears on credit reports.

Bills that were anticipated do not arrive in the mail, signaling that the billing address may have been changed.

Credit cards arrive in the mail that were not applied for.

Credit is denied, or high rates are imposed on mortgages or car loans, indicating elevated risks and delinquent accounts.

Bill collectors call about overdue debts.

Notices arrive referring to mysterious houses that were bought, apartments rented, or jobs held in the victim’s name.

Recovery and Restoration After an Impersonation

Individuals who have evidence that their personal accounts have been penetrated and their identities appropriated by impostors should follow these four steps in order to recover from the theft, according to advice provided by the Federal Trade Commission (2011):

Place a fraud alert on credit inquiries, applications, and reports with the three major companies. Monitor these accounts carefully for at least one year.

Close any accounts that appear to have been fraudu- lently opened or tampered with, and notify the com- pany’s security or fraud department, in writing, about the intrusion. Obtain forms to dispute any fraudulent transactions and debts, and keep records and copies of all correspondence.

Notify the local police and file a detailed complaint called an “Identity Theft Report” either in person, over the phone, or online, and get the report’s num- ber. If the local police are reluctant to accept the complaint, ask to file a “Miscellaneous Incident Report” or try another jurisdiction, such as the state police, or ask the state attorney general’s office for assistance. Provide reluctant officers with a copy of the FTC’s “Law Enforcement Cover Letter” that explains the impact of this type of crime on victims and the finance industry, as well as the FTC’s “Remedying the Effects of Identity Theft” that underscores the necessity of police reports as a way to ensure victim’s rights.

Contact the Federal Trade Commission, file a complaint using its online form or the hotline, and obtain an “ID Theft Affidavit,” which can be circulated to law enforcement agencies (such as the FBI, the Secret Service, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service).

Also, notify the IRS, U.S. Passport Office, and the state department of motor vehicles. Speak to counselors at an FTC hotline who offer advice about the steps to be fol- lowed and how to use their standard ID Theft Affidavit to simplify the process of settling disputed charges with defrauded creditors. Persons who continue to suffer lingering consequences and repeated intrusions may appeal to the Social Security Administration for a new identification number, but this step still may not resolve all their problems (FTC, 2011; U.S. General Accounting Office, 2002; Slosarik, 2002; and Lee, 2003a and Albrecht, Albrecht, and Tzafrir, 2011).


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suffer permanent brain damage from being bludgeoned on the head. The cashier is fired and held on charges of felonious assault, and the two unruly customers are arrested for menacing, criminal trespass, and disor- derly conduct. (Sandoval, 2011)

The accusation embedded in the term precip- itation is that the individual who gets hurt contrib- uted significantly to the outbreak of violence.

A charge of provocation embodies a stronger condemnation than precipitation; it accuses the loser of being more responsible than the victor for the fight that ensued. The injured party insti- gated an attack that would not have taken place otherwise. The person condemned for provoca- tion goaded, challenged, or incited a generally law-abiding person into taking defensive measures in reaction to forceful initiatives. When the battle ended, the aggressor was the one who was wounded or killed.

(Unfortunately, over the years, victimologists and criminologists have used the terms precipitation and provocation loosely, and even interchangeably, obscuring the distinction between lesser responsibil- ity for precipitation and greater responsibility for provocation.)

The first in-depth investigation of what was termed victim precipitation centered on homicides committed in Philadelphia from 1948 to 1952 (Wolfgang, 1958). Precipitation was the label applied to those cases in which the person who was killed had been the first to use force by drawing a weapon, striking the first physical blow during an argument, or in some way initiating violence to settle a dispute. Often, the victim and the offender knew each other; some had quarreled previously. Situations that incited them to violence included charges of infidelity, arguments over money, drunken brawls, and confrontations over insults or “fighting words.”

Victim-precipitated cases differed in a number of statistically significant ways from homicides in which those who were slain did not bring about their own demise. Nearly all the precipitative vic- tims were men; a sizable minority of the innocent victims were women. Conversely, relatively few

women committed homicide, but a substantial pro- portion of those who did so were provoked by violent initiatives by the men they killed. Alcohol was consumed before most killings, especially prior to precipitated slayings—usually, the victim had been drinking, not the offender.

In cases of precipitation, the one who died was more likely to have had a previous run-in with the law than in other murders. More than a third of the precipitative victims had a history of committing at least one violent offense, as opposed to one-fifth of the blameless ones.

Overall, about one murder of every four in Philadelphia from 1948 to 1952 was labeled by the researcher as victim-precipitated. Hence, in a quarter of the cases, widely held images of victims (as weak and passive individuals shrinking from confrontations) and of offenders (as strong, brutal aggressors relentlessly pursuing their prey) didn’t fit the facts as reconstructed from the police depart- ment files. In many of the victim-precipitated homicides, the characteristics of the victims closely resembled those of the offenders. In some cases, two criminally inclined people clashed, and chance alone determined which one would emerge as the winner or the loser in their final showdowns (Wolfgang, 1958).

Petty quarrels escalate into life-and-death struggles through a sequence of stages, or a series of transactions. The initial incident might be a per- sonal affront, perhaps something as minor as a slur or gesture. Both parties then contribute to the unfolding of a “character contest.” As the con- frontation escalates, each person attempts to “save face” at the other’s expense by hurling taunts, insults, and threats, especially if onlookers are pressuring them to fight it out (Luckenbill, 1977).

The term subintentional death has been applied to situations in which those who got killed played contributory roles in their deaths by exercis- ing poor judgment, taking excessive risks, or pursu- ing a self-destructive lifestyle (Allen, 1980). This charge—that some people want to end their emo- tional suffering and consciously or unconsciously enter risky situations or engineer tragic events—is

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leveled most commonly at repeat victims. In homi- cide cases, the argument rests on a record of several “near misses” preceding the final violent outburst. If the deceased person’s outright dares and subliminal invitations are interpreted within this framework, victim-provoked homicide is tantamount to suicide (Mueller, in Edelhertz and Geis, 1974); it is as if a mentally disturbed individual had a death wish but could not quite carry it through without help (Wolfgang, 1959; Reckless, 1967). This assumption of hidden motives is unsympathetic to the deceased who allegedly manipulated others to kill them, and it fosters a tendency to view them in a harsh light— as troublemakers whose demise is really not a tragedy.

Perhaps those who lost their final showdowns didn’t welcome their fate. What might be misinter- preted as a death wish was really an adherence to the norms of street culture that extols the use of force to settle disputes (Singer, 1986). This readiness to resort to combat to resolve arguments is not a sign of psychopathology but is instead learned behavior. Cultural norms that require people to fight it out and not back down are reported to be most prevalent among Southerners (Butterfield, 1999) as well as among young men in poor, urban neighborhoods who conform to a “code of the streets” to prove their manhood and gain their peers’ respect (Anderson, 1999). In many serious assaults, detectives often discover that both the injured party and the victorious assailant were mutual combatants (Lundsgaarde, 1977).

Note that according to the law, not all people wounded or killed by shootings or stabbings are classified as crime victims. For example, an armed robber slain in a gun battle with a bank guard would be categorized as a dead offender, not a pro- vocative victim. His demise would not be a murder but an act of justifiable homicide if the security officer resorted to deadly force in self-defense. Some casualties of justifiable homicides apparently committed “suicide by cop” (see Klinger, 2001) by provoking police officers to shoot them—for example, advancing in a menacing manner while brandishing an unloaded gun, and ignoring urgent warnings of “Stop or I’ll shoot!”

Victims of police brutality often are con- demned for having provoked the officers into using excessive force (beyond the necessary amount allowed by law) to subdue and arrest them. This image of instigating an officer to unleash retaliatory violence is reinforced if the person who was beaten was openly defiant and resisted arrest or even assaulted the officer. The brutality victim’s allega- tions are difficult to prove in criminal court (and in civil lawsuits) if any officers who witnessed key events abide by a “code of silence” and take part in a “blue wall” cover-up of misconduct—unless the incident was videotaped. Also, intense pressures to drop the brutality complaint are brought to bear on the injured person during plea negotiations if he is charged with crimes.

Consequently, it is difficult to assess the extent of the problem of police brutality as well as the problem of victim provocation of officers. Reli- able nationwide data and monitoring systems don’t exist. Yet charges of police brutality and countercharges of arrestee provocation must be taken seriously and investigated carefully because these divisive incidents can polarize the public, strain police–community relations, and even touch off riots.

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