Identity fraud is often perpetrated by total strangers who live miles away or across the world. However, familial identity fraud is a possibility many consumers don’t want to believe could happen to them. According to a study by Javelin Strategy & Research, in 2012 there were more than 12.6 million victims of identity fraud in the U.S. alone, or around one victim every three seconds.
“A more shocking statistic, however, may be the number of persons who discover their identities have been stolen by family members in order to access the victim’s credit,” reports Bruce Kennedy of CBS News. “Numbers vary, but a study quoted by credit information firm Transunion revealed that nearly one-third of identity theft victims later determined that a family member or relative was responsible for the crime.”
Here are three reasons why familial identity fraud can be the trickiest to expect, discover and address:
- Friends and family have the greatest access to your personal information.
A spouse, sibling or best friend has access to the most restricted areas of your life, from your home to your digital devices. This leaves plenty of windows of opportunity for malicious confidants to abuse their access and your trust. This makes familial identity fraud difficult to protect yourself against. However, there are steps you can take to ensure those opportunities aren’t readily available. If you designate a neighbor to house-sit for you while you take a trip, heavily password-protect your home computer and lock any identification materials in a safe. One resource thieves in your inner circle have access to is your garbage, so shredding documents before throwing them away can also reduce risk.
- Friends and family may fly under the radar when you suspect fraud.
When it comes to identity fraud, people are often liable to believe what they want to believe. This wishful thinking about the trustworthiness of their close friends and family can blind victims to what’s really happening with their identity. This makes the discovery process in rectifying identity theft even more challenging than in typical circumstances with strangers. If you notice suspicious activity that’s affecting your credit score, bank statement or other financial activity, keep an open mind to where the trail of evidence may lead.
- Friends and family can be challenging to prosecute.
In many cases of identity fraud among family members, the criminal has spun out in an illegal and destructive direction. Emotionally, this makes it challenging for parents, siblings and close friends to pursue civil damages against the fraudster, or to report the situation to the authorities. Rather than chasing damages in a court of law, many victims of familial identity fraud attempt to rectify the situation on their own, by cutting off access to sensitive material and working to rebuild credit. This way, they effectively cut their losses to preserve a relationship or get their loved one help.
Constant vigilance is the best protection against identity theft. This doesn’t mean living in fear, but making smart decisions about monitoring and identifying suspicious activity from when you first discover it. For the best protection, consider signing up for a credit monitoring services that can alert you to certain activity on your credit file that may be indicative of fraud. With this information, you can act immediately to protect yourself.