Family Identity Theft: What to Do If a Family Member Steals Your Identity

  • By David Lukic
  • Apr 14, 2022

Becoming a victim of Identity theft by a stranger is bad enough, but it can be devastating when you find out someone you know, and trust has betrayed you for their own financial gain.

What is Family Identity Theft?

Family identity theft is a crime that involves a family member using your personal information for financial gain. Identity theft becomes even more difficult to handle when the culprit is a romantic partner, adult child, or a close relative. 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.

Common Types of Identity Theft

Family identity theft is often committed by a spouse, friend, neighbor, family member, or in-home employee. Some types of identity theft are child identity theft, elder identity theft, and family identity theft (usually, a sibling, parent, child, or other family member commits the crime).

How Family Identity Theft Is Different

Family identity theft is also referred to as familiar fraud, and it’s a crime more insidious than when a stranger steals your identity and uses it for financial gain. Someone close to you abuses your trust by accessing your personal information to open new accounts, steal money, or commit other acts of fraud. Familiar fraud is usually more painful for the victim because someone they knew betrayed them.

How Does Family Identity Theft Occur?

Here are some ways that family identity theft occurs:

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 they are 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 in their name.

Using a Sibling’s Identity

It’s not uncommon for people to take advantage of a sibling and steal their identity 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.

Common Consequences of Family Identity Theft

The consequences of family identity theft are the same as any other type. Your credit may suffer, your accounts might be taken over or drained of funds, and you could find yourself with a mountain of debt, utility bills, or leases for rental properties that aren’t even yours. Identity theft can ruin you financially, which is why you need identity theft protection and credit monitoring to keep a close eye on all your personal details. 

family identity theft

What to Do After Your Identity Has Been Stolen

If this awful occurrence happens to you, follow the steps below:

  • Put a freeze on your credit so no one can open new accounts in your name.
  • Notify the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, Experian) and put a fraud alert on your file.
  • Notify all the vendors that the accounts aren’t yours.
  • Contact the local police (if you want to turn the person in).
  • Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and file a complaint.
  • Change all the passwords on your accounts and turn on 2FA.
  • Review your credit reports regularly and sign up for credit monitoring.
  • Use identity theft monitoring to protect you and your family.

Common Remedies for Family Identity Theft

There are a few ways to handle familial identity theft. They include:

Keep It in the Family, or Not

There is always the question of whether or not to keep it in the family. Experts say you should always report identity theft regardless of who commits it, but it’s not that simple. You will have to decide for yourself if it is worth it to turn your family member in.

Civil Remedies

You also have the option of suing the person privately for damage to your reputation, credit, and finances. Again, this is a personal decision you must make for yourself. You may never see a dime of remedy if the person is in rough financial shape.

Criminal Remedies

If you alert the police, the family member who committed the identity theft will be prosecuted according to the laws in your state. The penalties may include jail or prison time and fines.

How Can I Protect Myself from Family Identity Theft?

Some ways you can protect yourself against family identity theft include:

Identity & Credit Monitoring

By enrolling in an identity monitoring program, anyone can receive notifications when their or a family member’s personal information is being misused or compromised and when fraudsters carry out unusual activities or open new bank accounts under their name. IDStrong also alerts you when your information is found in the dark web due to a data breach.

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

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 data without permission and taking out loans.

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.

Identity theft by a family member is an awful situation. To avoid it happening to you, sign up for family identity theft protection with IDStrong to keep an eye on all your personal information, and we will alert you when we find your details online. IDStrong provides identity protection for the whole family.

password protection

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 in 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 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.
  • If 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 you 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 identities. 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 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.

family identity theft signs

What Are the Signs That Your 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 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.

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 private information (or your child’s personal details, especially their SSN, unless it’s necessary.
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