ITRC Fact Sheet 115
Case 1: “My adult daughter used my information without my knowledge to open several credit cards and buy a car. She hasn’t paid on any of these accounts and now the bank and credit card companies want me to pay. What do I do? I don’t want to see her go to jail.”
Case 2: “My father has a gambling problem. He opened several checking accounts in both my name and my brother’s name. Then he wrote bad checks for his debt. He’s 68 years old and my family thinks we should just pay off the debt. I know that if we do, he’ll just do it again. What do you advise?”
Case 3: “My ex-husband is using my 8-year old son’s SSN to open credit cards. He even got a driver’s license using his information. How do I stop him?”
Case 4: “My friend apparently went through my papers one day and found my SSN. She has several credit cards that she applied for in both of our names. I found out when I applied for a card and it was denied. She says she will pay off the cards but can only afford $20 a month. The credit card companies want all of it now. I can’t afford to pay these off. It is more than $10,000. What do I do? She won’t sign a letter saying these are really her cards because she is afraid they will arrest her.”
Identity theft is a complex crime at best. When the imposter is someone known to you, the impact of the crime magnifies dramatically:
You essentially have three choices of action:
- Proceed as if this was a regular case of id theft.
- Make a police report (this is not the same as pressing charges against the person)
- Cooperate with law enforcement’s investigation
- Work with the creditors to see if a resolution can be made without police involvement
- Pay the debt and live with the consequences
This guide will address some of these choices and possible solutions.
The Reality of the Situation
Let’s look at this situation from various points of view.
The law: If you do not report this case, there will be no police report and no investigation. If you want the protection of the law as a victim of identity theft (and all the benefits you gain as a recognized identity theft victim), you must make a report. To get the protection of federal and conspirator unless you knew about the fraud and did nothing to stop it, or participated in the fraud yourself. If you refuse to make a report, you may risk appearing suspect when you try to clear the fraud activity (civil or criminal).
Credit card companies and financial institutions: The credit card companies and financial institutions want their money back. That is a reasonable expectation. It is your task to convince them that another person has taken over your accounts and/or opened new accounts in your name – all without your permission or knowledge. You will have to prove that you have not benefited financially from these accounts. Unfortunately, without a police report, your job will be much tougher. Credit card companies do not take victims seriously without a police report.
The victim: When you personally know the individual who has used your information, the emotional impact of identity theft dramatically increases — the sense of violation and betrayal, the embarrassment for yourself and the imposter, the abuse of trust, even your feeling of how you evaluate others.
You may feel that this decision is not cut and dry. That feeling is one that many family identity theft victims experience as they begin to explore their options. This decision has many ramifications, for you and for those who know both you and the imposter. And those who know both of you may put pressure on you to assume the responsibility for the crime to protect the criminal.
One victim put it this way:
“The person who stole my identity was a friend. When I first found out, I was angry at what she did to me, apparently without concern for my feelings or financial security. I reported the situation to the police and then spent the next few weeks worrying about her safety. Would she be arrested? Would she be angry with me? She did get arrested and pled guilty.
The day they took her from the courtroom in shackles was a very difficult day for me. I had a lot of mixed feelings. I knew she would not be able to hurt me for a while, that she would pay for her crime. People told me I should be celebrating. But how do you celebrate when you get to walk in the sunlight and the person you thought was a friend is behind bars, on a cot, alone and unable to feel the breeze on her face?
It took me a while to stop identifying with her. I also had to make peace with myself. I was not the cause of the crime. I was simply a way for her to get money. By going to the police, I had actually given her a gift – a chance to change her ways and get her life together. I finally realized this crime was not about me. It was about her and her problems. I was just an innocent bystander. She was not capable of understanding friendship.”
What If You Suspect the Imposter Is Someone You Know?
- The first step is to order copies of your credit reports from Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. These reports are free if you believe you are a victim of financial crime or have been refused credit or a job. Place a fraud alert on each of them.
- File a police report, using the information from your credit reports as evidence.
- Call all the companies or collection agencies listing an account that you have not personally opened or that show a pending application. Request they send you a copy of the application and transaction records. Remember, you must send a police report with this request.
- Remember, you are not liable for this debt, and the company is taking advantage of the fact that you’re a family member if they insist that you pay.
- Keep trying to get the company to remove the debt.
- If you have a police report listing all the fraud accounts, the credit bureaus must block the fraudulent accounts from your credit reports within 30 days or provide you with a written response regarding why they will not.
Frequently Asked Questions
What if I file a police report? Won’t everyone hate me?
The person who used your information showed a lack of concern for your safety and financial good health. The old saying, “I didn’t think it would really hurt you; the credit card companies just write off the loss,” cannot be allowed as an excuse. The cost of loss is passed on to all of us in higher prices and taxes. If you have approached that person and told them you have a problem they caused AND they don’t respond with an offer to make it completely right immediately, they’ve told you their answer. They don’t care about you and how this affects your life. Why would you continue to protect someone who is putting you at risk?
By contacting the authorities and cooperating fully, you have not caused this person to be arrested. They caused this by their own actions. In your heart, you must understand you did the right thing, sometimes the most difficult action you will ever take. Be careful if you think this person may become violent. Do not confront him/her. Let the police handle the situation and make sure you take the necessary steps to protect yourself.
My family wants me to forgive the imposter and they will help me pay off the bills slowly together. What are the consequences of this?
If the imposter and credit issuer will cooperate, have the account moved to the imposter’s SSN. Have the family work out an agreement in writing, signed by all parties, to put the debt in the imposter’s name to pay it off.
UNDERSTAND, if you pay the debt in your name, any negative information on your credit report will remain on your report for seven (7) years. You have assumed responsibility for the debt, and any negative credit worthiness consequences.
The imposter either will not admit guilt, will admit guilt but not sign any forms. I have conclusive proof of the crime. How should I proceed?
Proceed as in Question One or Three – the choice is yours. Either file a police report or pay the bill.
The creditor won’t believe either the thief or me? Now what?
Assuming you have provided proof, have filed a police report and there is a notarized admission of guilt by the imposter, you need to speak with a higher level person that you are currently dealing with. Ask for the legal department if all else fails. See ITRC’s Fact Sheet FS 116 on dealing with collection agencies.
The perpetrator is my ex-spouse or soon to be ex-spouse. What is the best way to proceed?
If the person has opened up credit cards in your name, without your authorization, we recommend that you have your divorce attorney address this as part of the divorce proceedings or settlement. If the divorce is final, you may choose to deal with this, as in Question One above, or go back to your divorce attorney for additional court assistance. Send a copy of the divorce decree with a cover letter to the creditors and let them go after your ex-spouse. For more information, you can read our ITRC Fact Sheet FS 115A – What if my spouse is stealing my identity?
Does mediation help?
Mediation is a form of civil action. This is an option if you don’t want to take criminal legal action. The mediator will attempt to create a structured solution and legally binding agreement as to the circumstances between the imposter, the creditors or collection agencies and you. However, the downside is that the collection notice or bill still remains on your credit report unless the creditor will transfer the account to the imposter’s Social Security Number (see question 3 above). If the party refuses to go to mediation, you have to decide – are you going to pay the bill, take them to small claims court and sue them for the amount owed or report them to the police?
Do I need legal assistance?
If your impostor has committed crimes in your name, you should definitely contact a criminal defense attorney and have him/her help you to clear your name from the FBI and state criminal records databases. See the ITRC Fact Sheet FS 110 – Criminal Identity Theft. If your family member committed financial fraud, and the creditors will not remove the fraud after you have written letters, you may need to hire a consumer law attorney. For referrals, contact the National Association of Consumer Advocates, your local or state bar association or other resources in The Identity Theft Survival Kit available at www.idtheft.org. It provides additional attorney-written letters on diskette dealing with this situation.
Whatever you decide to do, know the Identity Theft Resource Center is here to help you through this maze. Please call or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want additional help.
This fact sheet should not be used in lieu of legal advice. Any requests to reproduce this material, other than by individual victims for their own use, should be directed to email@example.com.