Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Identity Theft by a Spouse or Family Member

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When you think about who might commit identity theft, a nameless, faceless cybercriminal may come to mind, but that isn’t always the case. In recognition of Data Privacy Day January 28, let’s take a deeper look at a type of identity theft that isn’t often discussed—identity theft by a spouse or family member.

When Your Identity Thief Is Closer Than You Think

The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) has reported on various cases of family identity theft: a woman who used one of her parent’s identities to secure several credit cards and buy a car, a father who used both of his adult sons’ identities to write bad checks, and a father who used his young son’s identity to open new credit card accounts and even get a driver’s license.

In one case, a mother stole her young daughter’s identity to incur $500,000 in debt. The victim in that case, who is now an award-winning researcher of child identity theft, spent 16 years working to clear her identity and credit.

While identity theft by a family member may begin innocently enough with the intent to pay back any debt incurred, that doesn’t always happen, especially if a relative is already in financial trouble. And regardless of what form it takes, it is a crime to use another person’s identity or credit without their consent.

The Sticky Problem of Identity Theft by a Spouse

Spousal identity theft is when someone uses their spouse’s identity and personal information for things like opening a credit card or financial account or signing documents without consent. Experts advise victims of spousal identity theft to speak with an attorney to determine the necessary course of action.

Will I Have to Take Legal Action Against a Relative?

This may be the most-feared question when it comes to identity theft committed by a family member.

The ITRC outlines possible courses of action when the identity thief may be someone you know: figure out how to pay the debt and live with the consequences, work with creditors to see if you can resolve the issue without taking legal action, or proceed with reporting the crime as if it is a regular case of identity theft.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends reporting any suspected case of identity theft to its agency through IdentityTheft.gov. In typical cases of identity theft in which you don’t know the perpetrator, the FTC’s report can take the place of a police report to begin the process of restoring your identity and credit. However, if you know the identity thief and can contribute information to the police investigation, the FTC recommends that you take the additional step of reporting the crime to the police.

Be warned. If you choose not report the crime, you will likely still be responsible for the debt and may not be eligible for any of the legal protections as a recognized identity theft victim.

Celebrate Data Privacy Day by Better Protecting Your Personal and Financial Information

Protecting your personal and financial information can be difficult, but there are some steps you can take to better safeguard your identity.

The FTC’s article on ”How to Keep Your Personal Information Secure” provides a checklist to get you started.

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