When the Identity Thief is a Family Member

One of the most difficult things that can happen in your financial life is to have your personal information stolen and used for criminal activities. What can make this even more painful and complicated is when the person using your information is a family member. It’s important, though, to try to remain logical and rational in this trying time. By trying to remove yourself from the emotions of the situation and following the below steps, you can get through this tough time with less stress.

Identify the extent of the problem
You may have seen a particular charge or loss of money that first tipped you off to the crime, but you need to know how big the situation has become. You are entitled to get free copies of your credit report if you believe you have been a victim of identity theft, so call the credit bureaus directly to receive the copies of your reports. These will show the accounts that have been opened up in your name. If the problem is bigger than you initially believed, this could change how you want to proceed.

Here are the phone numbers to get the reports.

  • Equifax: 800.685.1111
  • Experian: 888.397.3742
  • TransUnion: 800.888.4213

It is also a good idea to have the bureaus put a fraud alert on your file and ask each of the bureaus to put a credit freeze on your file, which bars new accounts from being opened in your name without you giving a password to unlock your credit file. Finally, you will also want to contact the credit bureaus again after you have had a chance to look over your reports so that you can dispute all the items that were part of the fraud.

In many cases, the best way to resolve these kinds of situations is to try to work it out as a family. Insist that your family member pay you back the money that was lost due to the crime. If that doesn’t work, more serious steps will need to be taken, but try to work it out between the two of you initially. You have the leverage of turning your relative in to the authorities if an agreement isn’t worked out.

Contact the involved creditors
It is best to close the accounts that have been tampered with since a good stern talk doesn’t mean that the person illegally using your identity will stop. Also let the creditor know specifically about each case of fraudulent activity. If the identity thief has agreed to pay the debts, see if the creditor will move the account to the thief’s real name and Social Security number.

File a police report
This step is very difficult for many people who’ve had a relative steal from them. Despite what the person did to you, you may still love and not want to see them have to suffer from the consequences of the crime they have committed. However, if you are not able to get things worked out on your own, filing a police report can help send the message to your family member that what they did is not OK. Also, keep in mind that if you don’t have a police report for the crime it will likely be much tougher – if not impossible – to have items removed from your credit reports or have faulty charges reversed.

Get help for the family member
Obviously the act of stealing an identity is a terrible thing, but it may happen for reasons other than just money. If the family member who stole your information has some underlying issues that led to the crime, encourage or help them to get counseling for the problems at hand.

Many people feel hesitant to take punitive action against a family member. But what many of the people who don’t want to take action against their relative eventually realize is that they are agreeing to shoulder an enormous burden – huge debts, damaged credit – for a crime committed by the relative. Conversely, many of the people who try to seek justice in the situation find that they have done the best possible thing for their relative by giving them a wake-up and helping them get themselves on the right path.

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