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When Your Mom Steals Your Identity

Christine DiGangi

Child identity theft is a common crime: Kids’ use of the Internet and mobile devices makes their information more accessible, and thieves are attracted to their spotless credit profiles. Sadly, parents are sometimes the perpetrators.

But what if you’re an adult, and you know your mom has stolen your identity?

That was a topic of discussion on Reddit last week. A user posted a story about how when she was in college (the poster’s gender is unclear, but let’s say it’s a woman), her mother opened a credit card in her name — with the daughter’s consent — to help pay for the daughter’s education expenses.

For the next several years (the first fraudulent account opened in 2007), the mom opened five other credit cards in her child’s name, and while the daughter knew about the first card, she found out about the others later.

Several times, the poster writes, she asked her mom to pay off the cards and give them to her, but it didn’t happen. Despite her daughter’s requests, the mom gave excuses: She has never missed a payment, she’s helping her daughter’s credit and so forth. The reason for the post was to seek advice.

What to Do With Family Fraudsters

Most people suggested that she file a police report, which is what experts recommend.

“Unless the person is willing to file a police report and list them as a suspect, the creditor is not going to shut the accounts,” said Brett Montgomery, fraud operations manager at Identity Theft 911.  “Most of the time, family members aren’t willing to do that.”

Montgomery said he’s seen similar situations of family member identity theft, and while the mom may be current on the bills now, it’s likely she won’t keep that up and will end up hurting her daughter’s credit.

As of Friday, the Reddit poster had told her mother to pay off the bills by Saturday, or she would involve the police.

When it comes to dealing with family identity theft, removing fraudulent accounts from a credit account can be tricky.

“If the creditor knows these accounts have been open for a long period of time, the creditor can say ‘How do we know you didn’t reap the benefits of this?’” Montgomery said, so when the victim knows about the ongoing fraud, it’s more difficult to fix the issue. “It’s usually all or nothing. The creditor is not going to know what they can separate out and hold responsible.”

Family or Not, It’s a Crime

These situations usually arise when a family member needs credit but has already trashed his or hers. The thread on Reddit says this mother declared bankruptcy about 10 years ago.

“It really isn’t different than a stranger doing it,” Montgomery said. “Usually the reason is just for greed and selfishness and the fact that they ruined their own credit and they can’t get anything in their own name.”

As is the case with all identity theft, consumers need to document the fraud as best as possible, and it’s crucial to review credit reports at least once a year. Everyone is entitled to a free annual credit report, and consumers can also monitor their credit for free with the Credit Report Card.

But these situations are a bit different than your average fraud. Many victims struggle with the emotional costs.

“It’s a common type of fraud that we see here, and it’s just an uglier version of it,” Montgomery said. “It’s hard explaining to the victim that you’re going to have to file a police report against your mom or your dad.”

And most of the time, they won’t.

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