My daughter/son took my credit cards and ran up a debt of xxxx. I can't pay it. Now collection agencies are hounding me for money and my credit is ruined. How can I get this debt off my credit report? What do I do?
Sound familiar? Believe it or not, this is a clear cut case of identity theft. When most people think of identity theft, they picture a stranger digging through their trash for banking or credit card information and then using that information to make purchases. Many cases of identity theft, however, aren't strangers but the people we love the most. Swiping a credit card from a parent, sibling or other family member and using it to make unauthorized purchases constitutes identity theft, and its illegal.
Your Rights As an Identity Theft Victim
|Did a loved one slip away with your credit card?|
When Identity Thieves Are Family Members
In order to property report a case of identity theft, the victim must first notify the police and obtain a police report detailing the incident. This is the part that trips up victims who suffered identity theft at the hands of a loved one. They don't want to be at fault for getting their loved on in trouble with the law. To illustrate my point, here are two actual cases I have dealt with: I have changed the names, of course.
Situation #1: John contacted me a few years ago looking for help cleaning up his credit. His credit report was littered with unpaid debt and collection accounts. The damage was severe. While I was trying to draw up a plan that would help him improve his scores, he offhandedly mentioned that the debts were a result of his ex-wife applying for credit cards in his name, maxing them out and leaving him stuck with the debts.
I was delighted. At the time, there wasn't much I could do. Credit repair, in John's case, would take years. I told John that his revelation was great news. He could clean up all of the damage quickly. All he needed to do was file a police report and start the process of reporting the debt and clearing his name. He was appalled that I would even suggest such a thing. According to him, he couldn't do something so heinous to the mother of his children.
Situation #2: Paul and his wife came to me for help getting a collection agency off their backs. The collection agency was demanding payment on an $18,000 debt for a loan that Paul never received. They finally admitted, reluctantly, that the debt wasn't a random identity theft. Paul's nephew had impersonated him to get the money. Even though Paul was facing a lawsuit and the possible loss of his home and other assets, he refused to "get my nephew involved."
These aren't the only cases I've seen. This is common enough to be frightening. Usually the thief is a child, however, and I have yet to run across a single parent who had been the victim of a child's identity theft that was willing to force that child to suffer the consequences of his or her Really. Stupid. Decision. These family members seem to think that they would be doing something harmful to the other person, whereas a debt is just money. In the big scheme of things, family relationships tend to take priority over protecting oneself.
Reporting Family Members for Identity Theft
What I need you to understand is that reporting a family member who has stolen your identity isn't a strike against that person. The individual in question is the one who made the decision to run up debt in your name and must take on responsibility for that. If they get arrested, sued, etc., those consequences are the result of the choice they made to steal your identity, not the result of the choice you made to set the situation right.
|Put a stop to fraudulent shopping sprees|
Consequences of Not Reporting Identity Theft
If you decide that its a better choice to protect your thieving loved one rather than protect yourself, consider the fact that until these creditors know you aren't liable for the debts they will continue to viciously pursue you. If the creditor sues, you could face wage garnishment or the creditor could drain your bank account repeatedly. In some cases, creditors even seize property. Thus, it becomes a case of either protecting the thief or the other innocent victims under your roof that will suffer as a result of your silence?
Report identity theft. Always.
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