When you think of the phrase identity theft, you may picture masked individuals rifling through your trash or typing furiously as they hack into your online accounts. Rarely do those anonymous figures match up with anyone you know. But what if a relative is the culprit of your identity theft disaster?
Learning that a family member is involved makes a bad situation significantly worse. Besides dealing with family politics, you also need to decide whether you will file a police report or press charges.
Here’s everything you need to know about identity theft by a family member.
Types of Identity Theft
The one thing that all types of identity theft have in common is that it benefits the perpetrator at the victim’s expense. Finding out that the perpetrator is a close relative, possibly living under the same roof, is a double blow.
Identity theft makes you feel vulnerable and unprotected; it can make you feel even more undermined when it happens close to home. Identity theft by a family member can lead to broken hearts and broken homes, no matter what reason is behind it.
Most identity fraud and theft have some financial aspects. The type depends more on what avenue the thief uses to siphon off those finances, whether through employee benefits, newly opened credit lines, or medical treatment.
Financial identity theft mainly refers to when a perpetrator, in this case, a relative, uses stolen financial information to take out loans, open bank accounts, or establish a new line of credit.
This is one of the most nefarious types of identity theft as the culprit is stealing medical care of some sort from the victim. Whether it’s healthcare benefits, prescription medication, or a different medical-related service, the culprit often struggles with addiction or has no healthcare coverage themselves.
Tax identity fraud is one of the most common theft types. It happens when thieves file false tax returns, steal your tax refund, or any other tax-related benefit. Especially for a family member who lives with you, it’s relatively easy to spot tax identification numbers, birth dates, or previous addresses on mail left lying around.
Identity theft is a crime no matter what, but it’s considered criminal identity fraud if it occurs in conjunction with another crime. If the police pull over a relative and they provide your identifying information, they will have committed identity theft as well as received a traffic violation.
If someone uses your personal information to receive employment benefits or apply for a new position, they commit identity theft. A thief can use information like your Social Security Number to apply for a job, establishing themselves as you. If that person is a family member, the betrayal hurts on a personal level too.
Steps to Take When Your Identity is Stolen
If you think you’ve been the victim of identity theft by a family member, you should take some steps for a quick and easy resolution.
- Confirm Your Evidence
You need to be sure before you accuse a family member of identity theft. Check and double-check your evidence to make sure you have it right. As much heartbreak actual identity theft can cause, a false accusation results in an equally stormy family situation.
- Freeze Accounts
As you gather your evidence and double-check your sources, freeze any accounts even obliquely related to the area in question. For example, if you have a credit card associated with your medical insurance to pay for monthly prescriptions, you should put a freeze on it.
- Confront the Family Member
You may want to avoid legal proceedings since they create more hard feelings, and you may not get the satisfaction of compensation in court. Depending on your circumstances and relationship with your family, a forthright conversation might solve the issue. If you feel uncertain about their reaction, you may want to record the conversation or have a friend with you during the confrontation.
- File a Police Report
If a frank conversation is impossible or dangerous, or you don’t believe a confrontation with the family member will bring a solution, you may need to take legal steps. Filing a police report against the guilty relative is the first of many legal steps you’ll have to take to conclude an identity theft matter in court with a relative.
Even if you don’t think someone is actively using your credentials to gain in some way, you can still take precautions to safeguard anything that would aid an identity thief.
- Lock Up Your Files
A locking file cabinet can be a lifesaver. At the very least, it will put your mind at ease when it comes to your most personal files and prying eyes, and it can keep your most crucial documents out of thieves’ hands.
- Opt Out of Credit Card Offers
Credit card companies sometimes send offers that may contain personal information. Whenever possible, opt out of credit card offers sent to your home address if you live with other people or are frequently out of town.
- Evaluate House Sitters
Taking an extended trip is always stressful, and getting everything done on time may seem like an impossible challenge. As you prepare, take a moment to scrutinize your house for personal information accessible to house or pet sitters. Consider using a nanny cam to monitor your home.
Regularly delivered mail holds a wealth of personal information, and you should limit who has access to it by placing it on hold while you are out of town.
It’s heartbreaking to experience an identity theft crisis, and it’s even more troubling when the perpetrator is someone close to you, even someone in your immediate family.
The aim may be different in family identity theft, but the outcome is always the same – a broken family. Whether a relative is going after social security benefits, medical discounts, or trying to start a new credit card, identity theft is a crime and must be stopped.
Take the right steps, before, during, and after the theft, to minimize the emotional and financial suffering this sensitive situation can cause. A direct conversation and some precautions like a locking file cabinet can prevent family tragedy.