Family members, especially parents, often have easy access to sensitive personal information.
So, having your identity stolen by a family member is common.
And, applying for a new credit card is easy. People can fill out an online application in seconds and get a new card in the mail within a week.
Banks don’t even ask for much identifying information. Usually, you just need to provide your name, address, and social security number.
It’s rare that banks will ask you to do more to prove your identity for an online credit card application.
That means that it can be very easy for family members, especially parents to apply for a card in your name because they are likely to have all the necessary information.
Here’s what you should do if a family member steals your identity to open credit cards in your name.
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Dealing with identity theft can be difficult on its own.
When the thief is a member of your family, things only get more complicated.
Worse, the effects of identity theft can take years to fully unravel.
If you've been the victim of identity theft, the first thing you should do is follow these steps.
1. File a Police a Report
Identity theft is a crime, and if a family member steals your identity, you are that crime’s victim.
To put it on record that this has occured, you have to file a police report. Do so by visiting the nearest police station. (Do not call the emergency number.)
You can use a copy of the police report to show lenders and credit bureaus that your identity has been stolen.
Provide as much info possible
Bring any evidence that you can, such as copies of the statements for fraudulent cards.
Also, make sure to bring some form of proof of identity so the police can confirm who you are.
Give as many details as you can, but make sure to stick to the facts of the story.
Don’t exaggerate or speculate when telling the officer your story.
If you can name which accounts are fraudulent and how they were opened in your name, that can help later when you try to convince creditors that you are not responsible for those accounts.
Once you’ve finished making the police report, ask for a copy of the written report.
This will be important to have as you try to repair your credit.
2. Alert Credit Bureaus
Once you’ve filed a police report, you can start working on removing any kind of debt that what put on your name illegally.
In most cases, identity thieves will open up as many cards as they can, and max them out.
That can tank your credit and make it nearly impossible to get any loan that you need legitimately.
Family members, however, may open one or two cards and use them sparingly while making just the minimum payments.
This is how they keep the identity theft unnoticed.
You are legally entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three credit bureaus.
If you've already pulled it for the year, you may be able to get additional credit reports for free or at a discount.
Then, contact each of the three credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion (fraud divisions):
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742
- Equifax: 1-866-349-5191
- TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
Explain that you have been the victim of identity theft, and tell them which accounts were opened fraudulently.
Note: When you report fraud at any one of the U.S. credit bureaus, the other two bureaus will be notified and a 90-day alert at all credit bureaus.
Request that the bureaus remove the fraudulent credit cards from your credit reports.
Of course, the credit bureaus will want some proof that the accounts are actually fraudulent.
This is where the police report comes in.
Provide each credit bureau with a copy of the police report you filed.
This will help your case in proving that the accounts are fraudulent and getting the accounts removed from your report.
3. Contact Creditors
Another important step to take is to contact your creditors, including the creditors on the fraudulent accounts.
The contact information for the creditors can be found in your credit reports.
Explain that you’ve been a victim of identity theft.
The card issuers can help explain to you what next steps you should take to protect your identity.
When speaking to the creditors on the fraudulent accounts, explain that the accounts were opened fraudulently and that you are not responsible for them.
Provide a copy of the police report as supporting evidence.
Your goal is to convince the creditors that you truly aren’t responsible for the debts your family member incurred and to have them stop billing you.
4. Change Your Passwords
If a family member has stolen your identity, it wouldn’t be much of a leap to think that they might also know some of your passwords.
Take the time to update the passwords on your important financial accounts.
This can help you prevent your family member from logging in to your account to apply for more cards or to move money around.
5. Consider Freezing Your Credit
If your family member has opened cards in your name once, there’s not much stopping them from trying again at a later date.
If you’re worried about the potential for continued identity theft, freeze your credit reports.
When you freeze your credit report, it blocks lenders from requesting a copy from a credit bureau.
If a lender can’t see your credit report, there’s no way they’ll be willing to offer you a loan, so anyone trying to open an account in your name will be unsuccessful.
Of course, you also won’t be able to open any loans while your credit is frozen.
You should freeze your credit with all three bureaus.
Normally, there's a fee for a credit freeze. But, for identity theft victims, it is free.
If you ever want to apply for a loan, unfreeze your credit before making the application.
Once you’ve applied, you can freeze your credit again. This can make identity theft all but impossible.
What if the Identity Theft Occurs at an Early Age?
Family members could have your information at an early age to commit identity fraud for decades before you notice it.
This type of identity theft can be particularly hard to recover from because it may have been going on for a decade or more before you notice it.
Usually, you won’t find out until you apply for student loans or your first credit card.
If this happens to you, the best thing to do is to get started with fixing the situation as soon as you can.
Bad credit can make even basic things like utilities more expensive as companies might ask you to provide a deposit.
Start by filing a police report and move on from there.
The good news is that you legally cannot be responsible for debt that was taken on before you turned 18.
That can make it easier to prove that you are not responsible for the debt and aren’t required to pay.
The thing that makes identity theft perpetrated by a family member worse than normal identity theft is the emotional and relationship aspects of the situation.
It’s normal to feel incredibly betrayed if someone in your family steals your identity.
It’s not different than if a family member broke into your home and stole something.
That kind of betrayal can significantly affect a relationship.
When you file a police report regarding the theft of your identity, the police will start to investigate the crime.
If a family member is the identity thief, that means they will be the one taken in by the police and potentially punished by the legal system.
You might have family members imploring you to not file a report, saying that if you do, the family member who stole your identity will go to jail.
What action you take is ultimately up to you, but remember that without a police report, you have no way to prove the fraud to creditors.
By not filing a police report, you’ll be taking responsibility for the debt that someone else incurred in your name.
There’s also no guarantee that your family member won’t continue trying to steal your identity.
You'll have to decide for yourself whether trying to salvage your relationship with the person who stole your identity is worth bearing the financial costs of their crime.
You can try to convince the person who stole your identity to pay the bills they incurred, but you won't be able to get a legal guarantee.
Also, people who resort to identity theft usually rack up more in bills than they can afford to pay, so it may be difficult to convince someone to pay.
Identity theft is a very stressful thing to deal with and the fallout from it can last for years.
If the identity thief is a member of your family, that makes it all the more difficult to deal with.
Follow these tips to help recover from the damage but keep the relationship aspect of things in mind.
The best way to recover from the damage is to file a police report, but this can result in hefty legal repercussions for your family member.
Whether you're willing to report your family member's crime is a difficult question that only you can answer.