How To Handle Identity Theft When It’s Family

by Tim on April 11, 2011

The following story about identity theft among family members is true, but the names have been changed to keep both parties anonymous.

Jack was a good friend of mine and always took care of his finances well.  The last thing on his mind was the possibility of having his identity stolen.  In fact, he wouldn’t have even known had he not applied to refinance his home.  His credit score was always great, so when the bank told him that his credit needed work, he looked over his credit report to find all sorts of activity in the Chicago area.  The problem was that he lived in Indianapolis.  There was only one person he knew in Chicago…his brother Mark, who fit the bill perfectly.

Jack took a pretty direct approach and made an unexpected visit to the suburb of Chicago where his brother lived.  They weren’t the closest of siblings (though close enough for Mark to remember from childhood that their social security numbers were fairly similar) so the conversation didn’t last very long before Jack ended up at the police station filing a report about the fraudulent activity.

The items purchased with Jack’s credit included a ‘buy-here-pay-here’ car, electric and gas utility setup, cell phone, and credit card applications.  Worst of all, Mark wasn’t keeping up with the payments.  As Jack contacted each of the companies to inform them of the fraud, he soon found out that his credit could be damaged, even though he wouldn’t be held liable for the charges.

It took years to repair Jack’s credit and even longer to repair his relationship with his brother.

Jack’s story isn’t uncommon today.  According to the Javelin research firm, at least 13% of all identity crimes were done by someone the victim knew previously, which includes family members.  Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the world.  Increasing by 12% over the previous year, the annual financial damage reached $54 billion dollars according to the 2010 study by Javelin research.

What To Do If You’re Affected By Identity Theft

Obtain a copy of your credit report.

You have the right to view your credit report for free each year from the three credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.  If you suspect or know that someone has stolen your credit, you need to have the latest copy of your credit report.   You can request your credit report via www.annualcreditreport.com.

Make a police report.

In order to be protected as a victim of identity theft, you need to report the instance to police authorities.  This isn’t the same as pressing charges; you can decide if you want to do that later.  The important thing is to simply make the report; otherwise you may not have the protection you need and may even be considered a suspect yourself.

Contact the creditors.

Most major financial institutions have a fraud protection program for account holders, so contact them immediately about identity theft and inappropriate charges.  You may need to provide a police report, which is why it’s important to file one with the authorities as soon as possible.

Precautions for Everyone

Whether you’ve been affected by identity theft or not, you should always be cautious when it comes to your personal information.

  • Don’t publish identifying and other personal information on social media sites (pet’s name, elementary school, mother’s maiden name, birth date). You’d be surprised how much people can find out from your profile!
  • Use difficult passwords with capitals and numeral characters or signs like # $ % or @.  Be sure to change the passwords often and avoid logging into personal accounts from public computer terminals.
  • Keep paper documents locked away so that nosey friends aren’t tempted to walk away with your information.  Also keep your computer password protected to keep people from poking around in your personal files.
  • Identity theft doesn’t seem like a big deal until you’re affected by it, so always be aware of the reality of the crime and be careful with how you share your information!

Have you, or do you know of anyone who has been affected by identity theft?  If a family member stole your identity, do you think you would file a police report (like Jack did)?

Tim is a personal finance writer at Faith and Finance a Christian financial help blog that provides financial insights for individuals, businesses, and churches. Outside of finance, Tim enjoys spending time with his wife, playing the saxophone, reading economics books, and a good game of RISK or Catan. Find him on Twitter and Facebook and subscribe to the Faith and Finance RSS feed.

email

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }