The end-of-year holidays are frequently referred to as a “season of giving.” It’s a time to be with friends and family, sharing the blessings and joys of being a son, daughter, sister, brother or parent. However, millions of Americans victimized by identity theft can look around the holiday dinner table to lock eyes with their perpetrator.
On this blog, we’ve discussed the very real and devastating effects of family identity theft. ABC News profiled Axton Betz-Hamilton, an Indiana woman whose cherished family holidays took a dark turn when she learned she had been victimized by a close relative.
As a young woman, Betz-Hamilton discovered her identity had been compromised through a routine rental application. She says her credit score plunged to 380, preventing her from performing the simplest financial tasks. She was forced to get high-interest car loans and lines of credit, and had to provide deposits for recurring costs like utility bills.
The culprit behind Betz-Hamilton’s financial misfortune turned out to be her own mother. In addition to her daughter’s identity, the woman is also suspected of victimizing her husband and father-in-law, along with destroying her personal credit history.
“We lived on hobby farms one in Portland, Ind., and then another in Redkey,” she said. “Nineteen Thanksgivings came and went, and [my mother] cooked those dinners for us me and dad and my grandfather after he moved in in 1995. We were getting robbed by the hand that fed us the entire time.”
Stories like these are a reminder that identity theft is frequently perpetrated by the people we least expect: our own family. In addition to financial ruin, victims are left stunned by the betrayal. Betz-Hamilton still struggles to make peace with her mother, who died of cancer in 2013. The family never learned about their matriarch’s criminal activity until after she passed away and they discovered a paper trail of documents implicating her in the crimes.
The bereaved daughter has taken her story public to warn more consumers about the dangers of family identity theft: not just the financial toll but its deep emotional aftershocks.
“My mother’s last wishes were to be cremated, and we respected that. She wanted her ashes to be with me,” she told me over the phone. “Sometimes I yell at her. And sometimes I shake the box she’s in. We just don’t know who mom was. It’s hard to grieve for her. To change things up and start new traditions, I had Christmas at my house last year. Mom was here on the shelf. It was awkward.”
It’s important for consumers to be careful with the access they provide other people, including loved ones, to their personal financial information. This can help reduce vulnerabilities to ID theft . For additional protection, be sure to invest in a credit monitoring service, which can notify you of certain activities that may indicate fraud. With that information, you’ll know whether you have to obtain a credit freeze or pursue damages related to your compromised identity.