Identity theft can wreak havoc on victims’ personal and financial well-being. But the crime is never more insidious—or painful—than when victims know their perpetrators.
Familiar fraud strikes when a relative, friend or acquaintance uses stolen personally identifiable information to open new accounts and credit, or to activate utilities. Often the damage goes beyond basic financial problems; it can destroy personal relationships with people victims thought they could trust.
When a relative steals a young child’s identity, there’s almost nothing the victim could have done. The sad truth is many parents who use their children’s information aren’t thinking of the long-term consequences because they really don’t expect to carry the debt for a long time. It’s tempting to get out of a bind by using a child’s unblemished credit report, but the debt rarely gets repaid and the child grows up with an unexpected surprise waiting.
The consequences of familiar identity theft can be severe: Victims may be turned down for jobs, student financial aid, and even military service, but the pain of learning about this cuts far deeper.
Sadly, this scenario works in reverse, too. There are plenty of adults out there, many of them retirees already living on fixed incomes, who come to find out that their own adult children or other family members like nieces, nephews, or grandchildren have stolen their identities. It can be a typical case of a fraudulent credit card or utilities scam, but can even include applying for Social Security benefits, disability benefits, or other forms of government fraud.
However the situation came about, there is one all-too-common truth: too often, the victim is hesitant to resolve the issue because of the fear that it will result in criminal charges that can jeopardize an important relationship. But, you can’t recover from the crime without taking certain legal steps, such as filing a police report. No one wants to file criminal charges against a relative, but you shouldn’t bear the brunt of someone else’s criminal activity.
This month, take a couple of minutes to do the following review:
- Review financial accounts. Take a look through all of your checking, savings, and credit card accounts for strange activity. Even small transactions that don’t seem like a big deal can add up.
- Check your credit report. Put this on the calendar and check your credit report throughout the year. You are entitled to one free report from all three credit bureaus, so space them out to keep an eye on things all year.
- Password protect your phone. So many of us have one-click access to banking, social media, and email accounts on our phones. These are easily accessed if your phone is unlocked. Give it a password or PIN that isn’t your birthday, pet or child’s name, or other easily guessed phrase or number.
Preventing family identity theft is certainly a better option than recovering from it, both for your credit score and for any hope of having another holiday dinner together. Keep your identifying information safe and locked up, and don’t let it fall into a thief’s hands, no matter who that thief may be.
Eva Velasquez is CEO and president of the Identity Theft Resource Center.