Identity theft is something on everyone's mind these days, with data breaches occurring almost daily, leaked and exposed information, and ransomware at an all-time high.
However, did you know that more than half a million cases of identity theft occur each year, not by a stranger but by someone you know?
It's hard enough to feel safe from the outside world, but you also need to understand that sometimes someone very close to you (even family) could be tied to identity theft, leaving you to feel frustrated, violated, and angry.
Identity Theft Horror Cases
If you watch any true crime shows, you might see stories about mothers who steal their children's identity and then open new credit cards, get into debt, and cannot pay them. These same women may even impersonate their spouses to do the same thing, negatively affecting their loved ones' credit. The hole they dig for themselves just continues to grow larger and larger.
There are also lots of stories of older adults being abused in this way by a family member or caregiver. It is unfortunate when someone takes advantage of an older person or a child by stealing their identity and using it for themselves, causing financial ruin and a big mess for the victim.
When the crime happens within the family, even if the sibling, parent, or child gets caught, the victim may be reluctant to involve the police. Although they may feel hurt and betrayed, it can get complicated when emotions are involved.
What is Identity Theft by a Family Member or Friend?
Identity theft involves someone stealing or using your social security number, birthdate, mother's maiden name, or other private information to gain access to existing accounts or open new accounts or lines of credit for personal use.
The perpetrator may use your name, address, or social security number to sign up for wireless service, cable, electricity, or other utilities. If they have bad credit, they may know they could never get approved with their own details.
You may not even be aware of the damage until it's too late, and you are denied credit or find open accounts in your name with debt on them.
How to Handle Identity Theft?
If you become a victim of identity theft, you will want to immediately contact the vendor or creditor and let them know the account does not belong to you. You should also file a police report. It may feel wrong to do so when the offender is a close family member, relative, or friend. But if you do not cover your bases, your credit and financial life could be ruined for many years. You have to protect yourself no matter what the consequences to the other party. Also, consider that if you do not report them, they could do the same thing to someone else. So essentially, you may be protecting another victim.
You should also check all your other accounts to be sure they have not been compromised. Other tips include:
Get a copy of your credit report from all three agencies.
Put a credit freeze on your accounts so no one can open new debt in your name.
Sign up for identity theft monitoring.
Change all your account passwords, especially financial accounts.
How to Protect Your Children from Identity Theft?
Every child born in the U.S. gets a social security number. Keep your child's SSN card protected in a safe or safety deposit box until they turn 18. Other things you can do to protect your child from identity theft are:
Keep any paperwork that has your child's social security number and date of birth in a safe place.
Shred paperwork with these details on them after use. You don't want them laying around where someone in the family could swipe the information and use it.
Put a credit freeze on your child's credit report until they need it (usually around 18).
Keep a close eye on any bank accounts or credit cards you set up for your kids. Always have yourself put on them as a signatory so you can have access.
Teach your children never to give out personal details to anyone without permission first.
How to Protect Seniors from Identity Theft?
Older family members with health or mental health issues often get taken advantage of by family or caregivers. To protect your more senior family members:
Ask them for the power of attorney if they are unable to manage their own affairs.
Periodically review their bank and credit card statements looking for any suspicious activity.
Put a credit freeze on their credit reports so no one can open up new accounts in their name.
Talk to them about being careful not to give out personal information, even to people they trust.
Sign them up for identity theft monitoring to keep an eye on everything for you.