When people envision identity theft, they picture some stranger masquerading as them. But that isn’t always what plays out. During one year, about 550,000 victims of identity theft said that a person they knew took their information, not a stranger. While getting your identity stolen is always a difficult situation, when a family member is responsible, it’s even more complex. So if you have the question, if a family member opens an account in my name? Here’s what you need to know.
The Journey Is an Emotional One
First, understand that, when a family member steals your identity, you may go through a slew of powerful emotions. Anger, frustration, and feelings of betrayal are common. After all, they broke your trust, making many of those feelings valid.
However, since the person may be a family member you care about, turning them into the authorities might be harder than it would if the thief was a stranger. Additionally, you could feel pressured by family members to let it go, even though it is a crime. That makes the entire situation more emotionally challenging.
Report the Fraud
Once you are aware of the account, you need to report the fraud. Usually, you’ll want to start with a handful of authorities. File a police report quickly. That makes it easier to show that the situation is identity theft. Plus, a formal report may be necessary to fix certain issues, like damage to your credit.
You should also report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Once you do, you’ll receive a personalized plan that can help you move toward recovery.
Next, contact all of the credit bureaus and place a fraud alert on your account. Let them know you are the victim of identity theft and provide any additional information required to ensure the account is noted as not being yours. You can also make sure that the bureaus freeze or lock your report, preventing anyone from opening new accounts without you taking additional steps to make your credit information accessible.
Finally, contact the lender who manages the account to let them know the debt isn’t yours. Usually, you will need to speak with the creditor’s fraud department. Contact the standard customer service number, which you can typically find on the lender’s website, and let the representative know you need to report a fraudulent account. Keep records of the conversation and request that the account be closed or frozen while the investigation is underway.
Review Your Credit Report
While it’s possible that the family member only opened a single account in your name, it’s also possible that there are others. You’ll want to review all three of your credit reports and look for accounts you don’t recognize. That way, you can address other fraudulent accounts should they exist.
Every year, you can get a copy of each of your credit reports for free. Head to AnnualCreditReport.com, a site authorized by the federal government to provide the information, to request your copies.
Navigating the Fall Out
While you may be pressured to not report the theft, failing to do so could leave you on the hook for the debt. As a result, it’s usually wise to use the process above, even if others wished you wouldn’t.
But, by taking a stand, there may be some fallout. Understand that some people may be upset by your choice, even if reporting the theft is the right thing to do. While this could put a strain on the relationships, it may fade with time.
As for the person who committed identity theft, getting past the feelings of betrayal may be challenging, if not impossible. You may want to seek out professional guidance about how to proceed or determine whether certain boundaries are now necessary. It’s possible the relationship can be maintained to a degree. However, you may decide that remaining in contact isn’t in your best interest, and that’s your choice.
Otherwise, exercise caution regarding the information you choose to share with family. Often, keeping your information private is the best choice, ensuring it doesn’t end up in the hands of a thief.
Has a family member ever opened an account in your name without your permission? Do you have any tips that can help someone if a family member opened an account in their name? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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Tamila McDonald is a U.S. Army veteran with 20 years of service, including five years as a military financial advisor. After retiring from the Army, she spent eight years as an AFCPE-certified personal financial advisor for wounded warriors and their families. Now she writes about personal finance and benefits programs for numerous financial websites.