Summary: Having your identity stolen by anyone is a major issue, but when it’s someone close to you, the damage is even more catastrophic. Find out the sad truth about how often this ugly crime occurs, as well as what to do when someone steals your identity and how to prevent it in the first place.
What is Family Identity Theft & Why is it so Underreported?
While having your identity stolen by a malicious hacker is a violating and devastating experience, there is something that even outranks this nefarious act. Identity theft by a family member or close friend cuts deeper than most things, betraying your trust, uprooting your sense of security, and potentially destroying once cherished relationships forever.
Familiar identity theft is more common than you would like to believe. According to a Javelin report, identity theft crimes perpetrated by someone close to the victim claimed close to 850,000 identity theft victims in one year alone. Yet, this particularly insidious crime is a violation that is rarely discussed even within security-conscious circles. According to experts, familiar fraud statistics are misrepresented, underestimated, and underreported. This is generally because it is difficult for the victim to gain legal consultation or press charges against someone they love or are close to, both emotionally and logistically. Emotionally, victims may even try to defend or deny the accusations. Logistically, it can be difficult to prove that the charges are fraud when the thief was somebody close such as a parent, sibling, or spouse. Frequently, when the thief is someone close, victims remain with that status forever.
Since so many cases go undetected, unreported, or only surface years after they’ve been perpetrated, statistics are dramatically underestimated for the severity of these crimes.
Identity Theft by a Family Member – How, When & Why
Known as familiar fraud or familiar identity theft, security breaches of this nature happen most frequently because we naturally aren’t on guard against it, so we leave ourselves unprotected and vulnerable to the attack.
Basically, these acts of thievery happen so frequently simply because it’s so easy. The perpetrator has easy access to everything they need. After all, how often do you hide your passwords, social security number, or banking information from the people closest to you? If you’re like most people, not too often. Think for a moment. Have you ever:
- Left mail on the coffee table or counter when friends are over?
- Asked a friend to collect your mail while you’re away on vacation?
- Gotten a relative to pay a bill for you using your credit card or bank account?
- Told someone your password in the presence of a family member?
When you start to look at the entire picture, security breaches made by close friends or relatives make a lot of sense.
What to do When Your Identity is Stolen by Family
As devastating as it can be, you must take action immediately and unwaveringly. Don’t let emotions sway your course of action. Here are a few important actions you can take (see more identity theft tips to know what to do when someone steals your identity):
- Put a fraud alert on your account
- Go to the police. A police report will help you with denied charges, freezing your accounts, and waiving fees for actions such as credit reports.
- Run a credit report with the three major credit bureaus
- Dispute all fraudulent charges and accounts
What You Can do to Prevent Familial ID Theft
If the identity thief is someone close enough (ex. spouse), it may be extremely difficult to protect yourself. In most other cases, there are several things you can do to keep familiar identity theft at bay:
- Check bank statements, credit card bills, and account activity regularly for unusual activity or charges.
- Be careful who you hand your credit card over to. If you are lending out money to a friend, relative, etc., consider giving them cash instead of plastic.
- Also be cautious about who you give personal information to.
- Disable one-click payments on shopping apps. It might be less convenient, but it’s an easy way to keep people who are close to you from shopping on your tab.
- Maintain strong passwords (ones that can’t be guessed by friends and family), and don’t give them out to anyone.
- Use solid identity theft protection services that will help with tools like encryption and safe file-storing.
- Always log out of accounts when you finish using them. Again, less convenient, but a lot more secure.
- Pay attention. There are certainly red flags that come up if you know to look for them. Calls from creditors, strange charges on your credit card, mail from services or establishments you don’t frequent indicate something is amiss.
- Don’t leave mail, medical records, tax returns, bills, other identification documents, or even your wallet/purse around when friends come over. Most people aren’t identity thieves, but better safe than sorry.