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What is Family Identity Theft?

Family identity theft is a crime that involves a family member using your personal information for their financial gain. When the culprit is a romantic partner, adult child, or a close relative, identity theft becomes even more difficult to handle because if you’re living with the identity thief, they might distract you or discourage you from spotting the warning signs. Delaying the discovery of the scam or its extent makes it more difficult to get your jeopardized accounts or credit rating back on track. For an "insider," the access to your offline and online mail, sensitive data, and electronic devices is much easier, allowing them to impersonate you without arising much suspicion.

Surveys conducted by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) show that 50% of the 9 to 10 million Americans who are victims of identity theft every year say that the thief was someone they knew, for instance, a friend, a neighbor, a family member, or an in-home employee. A prevalent category within this criminal segment is child identity theft which in 2017 alone costed families $540 million. These huge out-of-pocket expenses were caused by crooks stealing the identities of over 1 million children living in the US.

What is Family Identity Theft?

How Does Family Identity Theft Occur?

Using a Child’s Identity

Many child identity thefts take place right within families. Since minors cannot apply for credit cards or obtain loans, other relatives often use their sensitive data to open bank accounts. Children learn about their ruined credit score only when old enough to apply for a loan.

Using a Spouse’s Identity

Romantic partners have all the means to use a spouse’s name and income without their consent to get new credit cards or open new accounts and rack up debt without your knowledge. Often, the victim only finds out when there’s already too much unpaid debt under their name.

Using a Sibling’s Identity

It’s not uncommon for people to take advantage of a sibling and steal their identity to try to avoid debt, or arrest. They could use their Social Security numbers (SSN) or cash in forged checks. The FTC estimates that nine percent of stolen identity crimes are perpetrated by family members.

Using a Senior Citizen’s Identity

Elderly people with reduced abilities are at risk particularly when they’re being cared for by an adult family member. Deceitful adult children have easy access to a parent or grandparent’s mail and could use their personally identifiable information to commit identity theft.

How Can I Protect Myself from Family Identity Theft?

Identity Theft Monitoring

By enrolling in an identity monitoring program, anyone can receive notifications if/when their or a family member’s personal information is being misused, compromised, as well as when fraudsters carry unusual activities or open new bank accounts under their name.

Credit Monitoring

Whether you choose to do it yourself or subscribe to automatic credit monitoring, it’s important for your credit history to pull a copy of the credit report every few months from the major credit bureaus. Credit trackers alert you via e-mail or text when suspicious changes occur.

Password Protection

To avoid a major security risk, password-protect all devices, use a password manager, and never write passwords down. This makes it harder for anyone (including family members) to access your e-mail address, private data, or key financial accounts from your smartphone or tablet.

Freeze Credit Reports

To shield elderly family members or children from identity theft, you could freeze their credit reports if they’re unlikely to apply for loans in the near future. This stops con artists or even other relatives from using their personal data without permission and take out loans.

Frequently Asked Questions about Family Identity Theft

How to Protect Your Family from Identity Theft?

  • Use the same bank account or credit card for all online shopping.
  • Sign up for identity theft/credit monitoring services or identity theft protection.
  • Contact your bank to set up automatic alerts for suspicious account activities.
  • Create strong passwords with extra authentication steps to prevent identity theft.
  • Contact credit bureau agencies to place a credit lock or credit freeze or on your name.
  • Educate your most vulnerable family members on how to stay safe from identity theft and what to look out for.
  • Register at the Do-not-call registry, opt-out of getting pre-screened credit offers, and remove your name from marketer’s lists.

How to Report a Family Member for Identity Theft?

Identity theft is a crime, regardless of whether the culprit is a loved one or not, therefore it's not wrong to report it and to take further cautionary steps, even when someone we love did it. Here’s a checklist:

  • File a police report.
  • Report the crime to the FTC online on IdentityTheft.gov or by calling 1877-438-4338.
  • Place a fraud alert with all three credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, TransUnion).
  • The credit score might have been affected, so ask credit bureaus to look into your credit reports, investigate, and fix data derived from fraudulent activities.
  • In case a new loan has been taken on your behalf, contact creditors and banks, explain what happened, and dispute any charges you’re not responsible for.
  • Share your fraud report with lenders, financial institutions, businesses, and local authorities you regularly deal with.
  • Change your login usernames and passwords.
  • Temporarily restrict access to your credit reports through a credit freeze (also called a security freeze).

What Do You Do When a Family Member Steals Your Identity?

As disturbing as it can be to file a police report on someone your love, it needs to be done, especially if they’ve damaged your financial prospects. The pressure to "keep it in the family" will be high and not reporting them means they got away with it, which could be interpreted by them as a green light to keep stealing other people’s identity. What you need to do is:

  • Change your checking account number.
  • Sign up for free credit report tracking.
  • Keep your personal information to yourself.
  • Close all of the fraudulent accounts and ask for new credit cards.
  • Set up alerts on your credit reports to prevent future fraud.
  • If you want to continue the relationship with the culprit, set up clear boundaries.
  • Get an identity theft report from the FTC, create an online account with them and ask for an identity theft recovery plan.

How to Stop Family Identity Theft?

The best way to stop family identity theft from happening is to prevent it by protecting your and your family’s identity. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Educate your family about online behavior, privacy, and security. Store your and your child's documents in a safe place.
  • Consider credit monitoring or credit freeze products, or even identity theft insurance.
  • Make regular checks of your family's credit files.
  • Always set strong, unique passwords on devices and accounts and ask family members to do the same.
  • Avoid sharing share private information (or your child's personal details, especially their SSN unless it’s necessary.

What Are the Signs That Your Identity (or a Family Member’s Identity) Has Been Stolen?

Watch out for the following red flags:

  • Accounts you don’t recognize on your credit report.
  • Unexplained debt collection notices or judgments.
  • You identify inexplicable payments or medical claims.
  • Unexpected negative changes to your credit score.
  • Your credit application is denied, although you have a good credit history.
  • When trying to lock your kid’s credit you discover that their social security number is in use.
  • Your child or an elderly parent/grandparent receives credit cards or calls about missed payments.
  • You receive an alert about someone attempting to open new accounts or to access accounts you didn’t open.
  • Mysterious charges appear on your credit card statement, including "$5 test charges" incurred to check if they go through and if more expensive purchases can be made.

Can a Child’s Identity Be Stolen?

A child under the age of 18 can also be a victim of identity theft. The crime is known as "child identity fraud" or "child identity theft." Most of the time the offender is a close relative who uses a minor’s personally identifiable information (PII) for their own gain, usually, to qualify for credit, employment, to obtain a driver’s license, for opening credit card accounts, bank accounts, or even buy cars or homes.  The most sought-after personal data stolen from a child is their SSN, followed by their name, date of birth, and physical address.

What Are Some Interesting Facts I Should Know about Child Identity Theft?

  • Research conducted by Javelin Strategy & Research showed that in 2017 alone, the identities of 1 million US children were stolen.
  • In many cases, it could take years before illegitimate debt that has been piling up for years gets noticed.
  • The best way to protect a minor’s sensitive data is by withholding their SSN and only disclose it when it’s absolutely necessary.
  • Identity thieves target children because their credit history and their SSN could stay unchecked for years, giving them a clean slate to operate with without getting caught.
  • Children in foster care are extremely vulnerable since their personal data is shared among various adults and institutions with anybody looking out for their financial interest in the long term.
  • Children’s identities may be compromised especially at their doctor’s office, at school, or anywhere else by someone who has access to their personal information (for instance from medical records or school records).

What Is "Familiar Fraud"?

"Familiar fraud" is a term used for identity theft that instead of being committed by anonymous scammers is conducted by "familiar" people who are close to the victim without being blood relatives, for instance, co-workers, carers, friends, or neighbors. Moreover, a Javelin Strategy & Research’s 2018 research discovered that 60 percent of child identity theft is executed by someone known to the victim, such as the child’s parent, a family friend, a relative, hired caretaker, nanny, or teacher. The intent is not always to harm and thieves could act out of desperation that often includes addictions or psychological issues.

Can Someone Steal Your Identity with Just Your Name?

Knowing another person’s name is not enough information to impersonate them, but if fraudsters or even a family member corroborate it with the victim’s social security card, SSN, home address, email address, or phone number, identity fraud becomes much easier to be completed. These basic pieces of information could give thieves deeper access to 401(k) plans, medical records, wills, credit card numbers, savings accounts, tax returns, loans, and bank accounts.

How Can Identity Monitoring Help in Cases of Family Identity Theft?

In today’s digital world, as much as we try to protect our own personal information and our family from identity theft, sometimes criminals seem to be one step ahead. That’s why enabling monitoring of sensitive data and personal records is a simple, yet extremely useful decision. Our search engine will search for data breaches, scan the dark web and thousands of other sources to check if your identity has been jeopardized. The IDStrong monitoring options allow users to keep multiple email addresses, SSNs, names under observation while also offering them the opportunity to add another family member's information to be monitored.

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