Having your identity stolen is an upsetting, even exhausting situation. Many victims have suffered sleepless nights from worrying about who had their information, how they had gotten it, and what else they were possibly doing with it. The recovery process, while time consuming, can offer them some measure of closure, though. But what do you do when your identity is stolen by a relative, or even by your own child?
The prospect of calling the police on your own child to report the unauthorized use of your bank accounts, credit cards, or personal identifying information is horrifying, but as the incidences of these types of theft rise, some families have found it’s the only way to get out from under the substantial debt and financial ruin that their children have caused.
You essentially have three options in the case of parent identity theft, and it can certainly feel like none of them is a good choice. First, you can quietly pay the bills that come due and assume all of the debt as your own; the reasons for this not being a good option should be fairly obvious, but the most important reason—apart from the fact that your financial situation has just taken a horrible turn for the worse—is that your child will not be accountable and will be free to attempt this same scenario with other family members. It’s one thing for you to secretly look the other way, but how will you feel when it’s your aging parent who is the next victim? Or what about one of your other children, someone who has struggled to get her feet under her and have a home, a family, and a career, but who suddenly finds her credit score destroyed by the actions of someone else? If you wouldn’t quietly let a stranger steal yours or your relatives’ identities, do not let your child get by with it.
One of the worst consequences about handling this quietly and without calling attention to it is that your child is also free to continue to add to your debt. As you pay it down and your credit limit becomes available again, what’s to stop this cycle from continuing? You must remember that by paying this yourself, you are accepting responsibility as though these charges were yours. Any damage to your credit score cannot easily be repaired unless you bring this out in the open when it first happens.
Short of reporting the incident to the police, you can also attempt to work out a repayment system with your child. It will require sitting him or her down for a difficult conversation and laying out the concrete terms of how you expect to be repaid. Any agreement for repayment must be put in writing; this isn’t a conversation to have on the phone, and you certainly should not accept a verbal agreement to pay you back. This may not be enough for creditors, as they are not required to accept a written agreement between two family members as proof of payment. You can try to talk to the creditors and have the debt transferred to your child’s name following this kind of agreement, but it’s not something they have to do without reporting it as an identity theft situation.
Your final option—one that many people cannot envision going through with—is to report this to the police, just as you would if a stranger stole your identity. Accepting responsibility for your child’s actions will not help you or your child in the long run, and in this case, it can actually hurt you severely. Your retirement accounts can suffer and your home equity can be depleted as you attempt to cover up your child’s crime. If your child has to face the consequences for this behavior now, it can help him in the long run.
The strange thing is you might actually have to convince the police that this familial crime took place by providing documentation of all of the charges. You also need to explain to the police that you will participate fully in the prosecution. They don’t want to waste man hours on a case only to have you retract your statement later after realizing that your child is going to have to face the consequences for his actions.
If your child has stolen your identity or that of a relative, the first step is to place fraud alerts on your personal information with all three credit reporting agencies. This at least prevents future credit cards or loans from being taken out in your name. Should you need help or resources, the Identity Theft Resource Center has documents you can refer to and a phone number to call for free information.
If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center’s Anyone3 fundraising campaign. For more information or to donate please visit http://www.idtheftcenter.org/itrc-launches-anyone3-campaign.