With the holidays here, many of us are preparing for an influx of family and friends. Those same people, though, might carry with them a hidden danger: the threat of identity theft. According to Javelin Strategy and Research Center, around 550,000 people each year have their identities stolen by someone close to them.

The term “familiar identity theft” might seem even more frightening than a faceless stranger stealing your data. After all, this is someone you care about and is supposed to be trustworthy. Too often, the crime is one of opportunity, a quick solution to what they think will be a short-term problem. Unfortunately, the very behaviors that led the thief to face financial trouble in the first place can mean racking up even more debt, only this time, it’s in your name.

This holiday season, you can take steps to prevent familiar identity theft by securing your documents, discarding or locking up any junk mail or essential statements that have arrived in the mail, and making sure all your computer devices are password protected, all before others arrive. But what if someone has already gotten to your data?

As harsh as it seems, a police report is your first step. This statement, signed by you, serves as a “promise” of sorts that you’re not the one responsible for the fraudulent activity. Filing a police report that you know to be false is a crime, so by taking this step, you’re basically seeking a piece of paper that says you understand the seriousness of your statement of innocence.

Unfortunately, some victims have reported being pressured by other friends or relatives not to take this step. While no one wants to see harm come to a person they care about, remember, you are also someone they should care about. By refusing to alert the authorities, you’re accepting responsibility for the charges. That means the debt is yours, the damage to your credit report will follow you, and the harm to your family relationships will be lasting.

Instead of punishment, think of it this way: filing the police report and requesting assistance from the companies where charges were made in your name could be the push the criminal needs to get their lives back on track. Don’t think of it as betraying someone you care about, but rather putting a stop to their behavior while it’s still manageable and involves understanding victims. Your action will not only clear your good name, but it could also prevent this person from getting into deeper trouble later that they cannot walk away from. As always, the Identity Theft Resource Center is here to help, no matter how the scam, fraud, or theft occurred.

Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services, and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.