A Family Member Stole My Identity — What Should I Do?

October 16, 2023


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    How Could Your Own Family Member Betray You?

    Laura Oglesby is not your average mother. The 48-year-old from Missouri faces five years in federal prison for going to college — as her daughter [*]. In a remarkable case of family identity theft, the woman stole her daughter’s identity to get a driver’s license, enroll in a university, and obtain financial aid.

    Family members misusing personal information to parents unlawfully applying for loans under their children’s names — family identity theft can take many forms. So can the consequences. When family members are financially desperate, they can resort to many different types of identity theft.

    These crimes have lingering effects that most young adults don’t encounter until they are much older.

    In this article, we’ll explore the depths of family identity theft, answering many important questions including:

    • In what ways could a family member could steal your identity?
    • What if a family member opens a credit card in your name?
    • How do you press charges against someone for identity theft?
    • Can you prevent identity theft?

    What Is Family Identity Theft?

    Family identity theft, also known as familiar fraud, happens when someone steals a family member's personally identifiable information (PII) and uses it for financial gain.

    For example, the family thief could apply for credit cards, take out loans, open new accounts, make expensive purchases, or commit various types of fraud.

    Because the perpetrator often has the victim’s trust and easy access to confidential information, this type of identity fraud can be challenging to detect and prevent. This fraud can persist with the victim remaining unaware for years to come.

    In the news: In a lawsuit reportedly filed in Tel Aviv and seen by NBC News, Diamond Mogul Lev Leviev sues “Tinder Swindler” for family identity theft [*]. The accused is being sued for impersonating the Leviev family and unjustly using their identity to enrich himself.

    5 Examples of Family Identity Theft

    1. Stealing a child's identity
    2. Elder fraud or senior identity theft
    3. Misusing a sibling's identity
    4. Spousal identity theft
    5. Identity theft of deceased family member

    1. Stealing a child’s identity

    Child identity theft is the use of a minor’s personal information to commit identity theft crimes, like credit card fraud. People under 18 years old aren’t eligible to apply for credit cards, loans, or mortgages.

    Yet a thief can combine the child's Social Security number (SSN) with a different date of birth to create a synthetic identity. With this forged information, it’s possible to apply for credit.

    This crime is one of the most common types of family identity theft. Children are vulnerable targets, and their personal information is often in the hands of a parent or guardian. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported that there were 23,651 victims of identity theft under the age of 19 in 2020.

    In the news: Axton Betz-Hamilton was only in fifth grade when her mother stole her identity [*]. It wasn't until Axton reached college that she discovered the devastating truth. Her mother had orchestrated a web of lies and manipulation to steal $500,000 from her family.

    2. Elder fraud or senior identity theft

    Senior citizen identity theft, or elder fraud, is when thieves target older adults in an attempt to exploit them for monetary gain. In the context of family identity theft, an adult child may take advantage of an elderly parent or grandparent.

    The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) suggests that senior citizens are often targeted because they tend to be more polite and trusting [*]. Many seniors possess greater savings and good credit scores, making them attractive targets. They are even easier to deceive if they have diminished abilities or poor memory.

    ⛳️ Related: What Is the Grandparent Scam? (And How To Avoid It)

    3. Misusing a sibling’s identity

    Sibling identity theft is fraud committed by a victim's brother or sister. If they live together, many siblings trust each other with handling mail or personal information. Of course, many adult siblings live separately, but this crime can still happen. For instance, you might cosign an auto loan with your sister, giving her access to your written signature and SSN.

    Sometimes, if siblings look alike, one can use photographs to convince authorities that he or she is the other. What may begin as borrowing a driver’s license in an isolated incident of dishonesty can escalate to serious felonies, including medical identity theft and financial fraud.

    In the news: A Washington man who fraudulently collected his missing brother’s Social Security benefits since 1998 was recently sentenced [*]. Those benefits totaled more than $388,000 in the last 20 years.

    4. Spousal identity theft

    Spousal identity theft is where your partner uses your personal information to open (and use) financial accounts. Financial infidelity like this may risk your SSN and forge your signature on documents to complete other types of fraud.

    In a bankruptcy scam in Indiana, a woman stole her husband’s identity to steal his 401(k) retirement fund and other assets [*]. “For husbands or wives who might have similar ideas about defrauding their spouses, they should know there are serious penalties for such actions.” – Doug Kasper, special agent, FBI Indianapolis.

    ⛳️ Related: The Best Identity Theft Protection for Seniors

    5. Identity theft of deceased family member

    Ghosting is when someone steals a deceased person's identity for financial gain.

    Suppose the thief is a family member who has taken responsibility for sorting the deceased person's affairs and reporting the death to the proper authorities. In that case, the thief can deceive the rest of the family for years.

    In July 2021, James Vincent Jr. of Reno, Nevada was found guilty of claiming his late father’s Social Security disability benefits [*]. Although Vincent notified the authorities of the death, the benefits continued for five years, landing in a joint bank account that the defendant held with his father.

    Another example of how a perpetrator can use a deceased person’s identity is through deed fraud by taking ownership of any properties in the deceased relative’s name.

    ⛳️ Related: How Can Someone Steal Your House Deed?

    What Happens If a Family Member Steals Your Identity? 

    Do you know what happens when a family member opens a credit card in your name?

    In most identity theft cases, the thief will apply for credit cards and try to max out the balances before the victim suspects fraud. When perpetrators are family members, they may be more careful, making minimum payments to remain undetected for a longer time.

    Regardless of how careful they are, there are sure to be consequences — and they’re all negative.

    1. Your credit score will take a hit

    In families, parents and grandparents that have accumulated financial nest eggs are prime targets for adult children who have the motivation to steal.

    But you don't need savings to lose money to family identity theft. The thief can open lines of credit in your name and empty the accounts, leaving you with a mountain of debt.

    Anytime there is an application for credit under your name, it will impact your credit score. Even if the creditor denies the loan application, your credit score will still take a hit. If a family member opens a credit card in your name and starts spending without making repayments, your credit score will plummet.

    The worse your credit score gets, the harder it gets for you (or the thief pretending to be you) to get any new form of credit. Many banks and credit card companies will refuse to deal with you; and those that do will offer lower borrowing limits and higher interest rates on repayments.

    2. You'll pay higher auto insurance rates and face tax problems

    Auto insurance carriers will want a credit report before they can calculate your monthly premium. It might be possible to get insured with a poor credit score, but identity theft victims can expect challenges in finding a willing credit provider (and will have to pay higher premiums).

    You could also lose access to your tax return. Even worse, an identity thief could use your information to land a job and earn money under your name. In this case, the IRS may chase you for higher annual tax bills on your extra income — even though you didn’t receive it.

    3. You won't be eligible for financial aid

    If you plan to apply for government funding to cover college tuition fees, family identity theft could mean you lose all rights to receive financial aid. By the time you sort out the mess, you may miss the college application window.

    Collection agencies will also demand payment whenever a thief leaves you saddled with unpaid loans. You could face lawsuits as debtors attempt to recover stolen funds. In the long term, the damage to your credit history and reputation could impact your chances of getting a mortgage or even a job.

    ⛳️ Related: How To Prevent & Avoid Identity Theft

    4. You could have a criminal record

    Imagine a family member opens a credit card in your name and then uses that card to commit chargeback fraud in your name. You'll be stuck with hefty attorney fees and a nightmare scenario to overturn the wrongful criminal record now associated with your name.

    Finally, the emotional trauma of family identity theft may be unfathomable. If family identity theft has gone on for a long time, it may leave you with serious emotional damage. The fallout could ruin relationships and split your family apart.

    How Do I Check If a Family Member Opened a Credit Card In My Name?

    If you notice suspicious activity from certain family members, it helps if you are able to recognize the red flags of fraud.

    Here are five warning signs of identity theft:

    1. Unexpected negative impacts on your credit score: You usually have a good credit rating, but it suddenly decreases, or a lender denies a credit application.
    2. Inexplicable activity on your credit report: You check out your credit report from one of the three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — to see new accounts that you don’t recognize.
    3. Mysterious payments or claims: You receive communications about medical claims, government payouts, or higher tax bills.
    4. Contact from debt collectors out of the blue: You get mail about credit card debt or visits from repossession agencies claiming you owe them for loans you never took out. Notices about missed payments on a child or grandparent's credit card are also possible.
    5. Unauthorized activity on your credit card bills: You notice transactions you can’t explain, including small “test charges” shortly before larger purchases.

    ⛳️ Related: Lost Your ID? Here Are The Risks (and How To Protect Yourself)

    How To Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

    Whether it’s a wide-scale hack or targeted family identity theft, any of us could be victims of identity fraud. Here's how to take back control and protect yourself from identity theft.

    Start monitoring your online accounts

    The more efficient you are with your personal finances, the less likely it is that you will fall victim to fraud. Practice good financial hygiene by:

    • Reviewing your credit card statements, bank accounts, and bills every month
    • Regularly scanning your personal data exposure
    • Signing up for credit monitoring to check your credit reports for unusual activity
    • Freezing your credit alongside monitoring for added protection

    “By freezing my credit file at all three major credit bureaus, I’ve locked all of the doors of my house to prevent anyone from breaking in. A credit monitoring service will tell me after someone has already gotten in. So paying for a credit monitoring service — especially without a credit freeze — is not a wise move.” – Eva Velasquez, CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center [*].

    Set up fraud alerts

    Add alerts to your credit reports to get notifications about any activity on your accounts. If a family member has opened a credit card in your name, you'll be alerted.

    Once you make a request for fraud alerts with one of the three bureaus, it will automatically be added to all three credit reports. This extra security means lenders need to verify your identity before approving any new credit requests.

    Secure sensitive documents

    Feeling like you can't trust your family is a discomforting notion. But if a family member is struggling financially, he or she might do something impetuous. It's crucial to keep your PII safe, especially if a potential thief lives in your home.

    You can keep sensitive documents tucked away in a fire safe or lockbox, and include your Social Security card, passports, or anything related to your bank accounts. If you're worried about someone stealing your wallet, consider storing it in a safe or lockbox overnight.

    ⛳️ Related: What Is Check Washing? How Can You Protect Yourself?

    Consider an identity protection service

    There are ample opportunities for a thief to compromise your personal information online. If you're not too tech-savvy, or if you worry about the number of exposed devices in your family home, the best solution is to get identity theft insurance with robust digital security software.

    Identity Guard provides one of the best identity theft protection plans to help prevent family members from accessing your online accounts. It also includes a range of tools to keep you safe as you bank, shop, or pay bills online.

    ⛳️ Related: Is Home Title Theft Real? 5 Ways To Protect Yourself

    What Should You Do if a Family Member Steals Your Identity?

    It's unbearable to think about; but your spouse, child, or parent could steal your identity just as easily as a stranger on the internet. If you're a victim of identity theft, it's time for action.  

    Contact your creditors and banks

    The first step is to contact your financial institutions to raise the alarm about potential fraud on your account. Call the credit card issuer or loan company to explain the situation. They can make a record of your credit fraud report stating that you were not responsible for the debts a family member has racked up in your name.

    Federal laws have strong protections in place for cardholders. If your card is lost or stolen, you may only incur a penalty of up to $50 on notifying the bank within two business days. You may not be held liable for charges made on the credit card after you’ve reported it missing.

    All major card networks — Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover — even offer $0 liability guarantees for unauthorized transactions. Enquire about how you can make the most of these safeguards.

    Report identity theft to the FTC

    This step is essential to get an official identity theft report, which you can use to set up an extended fraud alert or get a credit freeze. The FTC will request that you  complete an affidavit, a sworn document confirming the facts of the matter as you understand them. Report fraud to the FTC at IdentityTheft.gov or call 1-877-438-4338.

    File a police report

    Family identity theft is not okay; it's still a crime. If you're a victim, and there is substantial damage, going to the police might be the only way to get reimbursement. You can also help ensure this doesn't happen to someone else.

    Visit a local law enforcement office to file a police report. It's essential to bring all the evidence you can, including copies of any stolen documents if possible. Make sure you get a copy of the written report, as you can use this report to support your case when you notify your creditors.

    Review your credit report

    You’re entitled to one free copy of your credit report from each bureau every year. It’s easy to get these reports at AnnualCreditReport.com (the only official government site to pull free credit reports). If you’ve already set up a fraud alert on your credit file, you’ll automatically receive this free report.

    Alert the major credit bureaus

    Contact each of the three credit reporting agencies and speak to the fraud division. For each bureau:

    • Explain the situation to report the fraudulent activity on your accounts
    • Send a copy of your police report as evidence of the fraud
    • Ask to close the illegitimate accounts and remove the fraudulent information from your report

    Use this free FTC template: Here’s a sample template from the FTC that you can use to get in touch with each of the bureaus.

    Freeze your credit

    When you contact the bureaus, you could decide to freeze your credit to limit access to your credit files. This option is free for everyone, including minors.

    A family member won’t be able to open fraudulent accounts in your name, even if they have stolen your PII. You will get a PIN to thaw your credit freeze, which you should keep safe as it is the new master key to your credit.

    The caveat is that genuine lenders can’t view your reports for credit check purposes either. You won’t be able to approve any new credit accounts until you unfreeze.

    Change at-risk passwords

    If someone in your family has stolen your personal information, there’s a chance he or she also has some of your online passwords. Now is a good time to change all passwords across your online accounts.

    Create new, complex passwords for your email, banking, PayPal, and online shopping accounts such as Amazon and eBay. A secure password manager and multi-factor authentication (MFA) are other security measures to consider.

    How Do You Press Charges Against a Family Member for Identity Theft?

    Can you sue your parents for identity theft? The answer is yes, but taking a family member to court is not a decision to be taken lightly. If going down the legal route seems imperative, go to your local police office:

    • Carry a copy of your FTC Identity Theft Report, government-issued photo IDs, proof of your address, and other evidence of identity theft
    • File a report with details of family identity theft
    • Request a copy of this police report for follow-up steps

    It’s a Free-For-All Until You Take Action

    It’s stressful to discover you’re a victim of identity theft, and it’s even harder to handle when you find out the thief is someone in your family.

    A revelation like this is painful, especially if the fraud is long-drawn-out. Restoring the damage to your finances and your family won’t be easy.

    You’ll save a lot of heartache, time, and money if you get ahead of the problem. Since the pandemic began, most of us are online now more than ever. With a vigilant approach and reliable credit monitoring services, you can protect yourself from identity fraud.

    Start your Identity Guard free trial today

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    1. Financial identity theft and fraud
    2. Medical identity theft
    3. Child identity theft
    4. Elder fraud and estate identity theft
    5. “Friendly” or familial identity theft
    6. Employment identity theft
    7. Criminal identity theft
    8. Tax identity theft
    9. Unemployment and government benefits identity theft
    10. Synthetic identity theft
    11. Identity cloning
    12. Account takeovers (social media, email, etc.)
    13. Social Security number identity theft
    14. Biometric ID theft
    15. Crypto account takeovers