When Identity Theft Hits Close to Home

What to do when a family member steals your identity

Illustration by Ray Alma

Imagine if when you were a child, one of your parents opened a few credit cards and acquired a few utilities in your name—unbeknownst to you. Years later, it comes back to haunt you when you’re denied financing from a used car dealership. The salesman explains that your credit is poor because of unpaid bills—bills that your parent racked up in your name and never paid. As a result, lawyers, bill collectors, and a warrant may be in store for you as well as the daunting task of repairing your credit and getting your identity back.

Identity theft isn’t always committed by some unknown thief. It’s sometimes committed by a trusted brother, sister, mom, or dad—someone who has easy access to your Social Security number and personal information. Often, the children don’t find out about the offense until years later. But what can you do? Below is a step-by-step guide on how to handle this situation.

1. File a police report.
The first thing you need to do is file a police report and fill out affidavits to help prove to creditors that you did not rack up the charges, says Sonya Smith-Valentine, a lawyer who specializes in identity theft and credit fraud. Proving your innocence is a case-by-case basis. “If you were in school and the charges were made in a different state, show it. Provide your class schedule and other information to prove that you were out of state attending school,” says Smith-Valentine.

When you file a police report and identity theft affidavit, understand what it means. “You’re going to have to say you’re willing to assist in the prosecution of the family member,” says Smith-Valentine. This can often be a tough decision, but it’s important to put emotions aside and ignore excuses that are often offered by the identity thief.

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