Identity Theft: Sometimes it's the one you least suspect

When we hear the phrase “identity theft” we often visualize a stranger tapping into the internet to steal the personal information of others from websites, computers, and smartphones. What we don’t often consider is the person stealing Social Security numbers, credit card information, and other personal details could be someone living in our own households.

Unfortunately, it happens more frequently than we’d think.

Statistics of family members committing ID theft

Sadly, the trend of “friendly” ID theft is on the rise. In 2003, the Federal Trade Commission reported 9% of all identity theft incidents were committed by family members or other relatives who misused identity or credit card information. Fast-forward to 2018 and the cases of ID theft involving someone the victim knew jumped to 15%.

This doesn’t take into account the many cases that go unreported. Many people don’t report “friendly” ID theft because they are ashamed, don’t want to harm relationships, or get the person into trouble. Others don’t learn it was a family member or friend who victimized them until long after the fact.

Ways family members commit identity theft

Identity theft occurs when one person uses another’s for financial gain. In family or other close relationships, this intent might be malicious or out of desperation. Common examples of ways people commit identity theft against someone they have a relationship with include:

  • A parent using their child’s personal information to establish “fresh” credit to apply for credit cards or loans in the minor’s name.
  • A grandchild using their elderly grandparent’s information to apply for credit.
  • A person using their friend’s name and Social Security number to rent an apartment.
  • A spouse using their loved one's name and income without permission to open any sort of account.
  • A family member or friend using someone’s name and Social Security number to apply for a new credit card.

Since most people trust their relatives and friends, they find it hard to come to terms with the theft. In the case of minor children or elderly relatives, the damage to credit is usually long done before it’s noticed. Not only do victims find they can’t gain access to credit, they learn their credit score has plummeted.

What to do if someone close turns out to be an ID thief?

It can be difficult deciding what to do after a family member or friend commits ID theft, especially if they want to maintain the relationship. Generally, there are two options.

If the theft is caught quickly and minimal financial or credit damage has been done, victims may choose to deal with the theft personally. If more extensive, a victim can treat the ID theft the same as if a stranger committed the theft by reporting it to the authorities. After ID theft occurs, however it’s handled, it’s always a good idea to freeze credit reports and place a fraud alert on their credit.

Identity theft can wreak havoc on a victim’s credit score which hurts their chances of gaining access to credit or favorable terms. By obtaining an alternative credit score by paying their everyday expenses, individuals can demonstrate to lenders they are financially responsible. If you’d like to learn more about PRBC’s alternative credit score process, contact us today.

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