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identity stolen by family members

Can You Avoid Having Your Identity Stolen by Family?

Having Your Identity Stolen by Family Hurts Worse

Raphael’s Story

Raphael was distraught and confused to learn that his son, Raphael Jr., had unknowingly and quite fraudulently signed his dad’s name to his own student loans several years back. Dad only found out about the forgery when he was denied credit and learned that Junior’s student loans were in default, -and that Raphael, Sr. was obligated to pay back over $30,000! Being a hard-working laborer for three decades, having scrimped and saved, and having denied himself many pleasures to do so, Raphael Sr. was alarmed and confused.

Informing Sallie Mae that he had not signed for this debt was not enough to have it removed from his credit report

Informing Sallie Mae that he had not, in fact, signed for this debt was not enough to have the debt removed as an error from his credit report. Raphael Sr. soon learned his options were limited. He could turn his son over to the authorities, pay up or declare personal bankruptcy, none of which (he felt) were viable options. Sadly, Raphael Sr. is not alone. Having your identity stolen by family members is more common than many people realize.

Mandi’s Story

Mandi, a twenty-three-year-old elementary school teacher, recently learned that when she was a 21-year-old college student, her unemployed mother, Vivian, had helped herself to Mandi’s credit. She used Mandi’s identification and signature to access (and max out) several credit cards. Similar to Raphael Sr., Mandi was stymied as to her lack of options. She wondered how she could regain and re-establish her credit, whether to “rat out” the single mother who had raised her, and to whom she owed her allegiance.

Easy access to close family members’ personal identifying information also made it easy to access credit that wasn’t their own

In both situations, Junior and Vivian were too easily tempted by their own needs and wants. Having your identity stolen by family members usually starts out this way. Easy access to close family members’ personal identifying information also made it easy to access credit that wasn’t their own. Each perpetrator felt entitled to literally steal that credit.

You may also like, “Stolen Mail:What to Do When You’re the Victim of Identity Theft

Junior assumed his immigrant, non-English speaking father would have signed the student loans. It was Junior’s plan to obtain a quality education and create a life of success by sitting behind a desk without strenuously laboring, as his dad  been “forced” to do. Eighteen-year-old Junior had been determined to do better. Junior never asked Raphael’s permission, and took advantage of his father not being fluent in English. Junior failed to disclose his indiscretion, even when he stopped paying back his loans. Needless to say, Junior’s plans did not work out. Rather than sitting behind a desk, it is up to Raphael Sr. to decide if Junior will instead be sitting behind bars.

When it’s Family, it’s Complicated

Mother Vivian, likewise, felt entitled to access Mandi’s credit. In her mind, she had given birth to Mandi and had raised her while constantly struggling to pay her bills. Since Mandi was in college and making her way in the world, it seemed to Vivian that “borrowing” Mandi’s good name and credit was a fine idea. Rather than discuss her financial conundrum with Mandi, Vivian quite simply stole Mandi’s identity and soon destroyed Mandi’s credit.

Mandi will work hard for years to come to pay down the debts incurred by her mother and to recover her financial footing, while not being able to save for her own future.

Now Mandi is saddled with the maxed out credit cards (to the tune of $12,000 with interest growing daily), and a credit score that has prevented her from getting a car or an apartment. Mandi is loyal to Vivian and will not turn her in for stealing her identity. Accordingly, Mandi will work hard for years to come to pay down the debts incurred by her mother and to recover her financial footing, while not being able to save for her own future.

What is Identity Theft and How Can it Be Detected?

Having your identity stolen by family members, or even a stranger, who intend to commit fraud- that is “identity theft”. It occurs when someone uses your name, your social security number, and/or your credit. Obviously, the sooner you learn that your identity has been stolen, the better it will be for you in terms of damage control.

You may also like,  “How to Protect Your Passwords: 4 Tips”

Who would reasonably expect to have their identity stolen by family? It happens. The most efficient and effective way to learn if your identity has been stolen is to monitor and analyze your credit reports frequently. Look for inquiries from companies you have not contacted, accounts (and charges) you did not open, and addresses that are not (and have never been) yours.

Closely analyze your billing statements to make sure all charges incurred are yours and are accurate.  The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau advises, “Even a small charge can be a danger sign. Thieves sometimes will take a small amount from your checking account and then return to take much more if the small debit goes unnoticed.”

How You Can Prevent Identity Theft

While it is far more challenging to protect yourself from having your identity stolen by family members, (especially by the mother who likely obtained your social security number initially), here are some additional basic tips you can follow to safeguard your identity and credit:

  1. Protect your social security number and other personal information by keeping it confidential. Unless you need it that day, do not carry your social security card or other cards with your full social security number on them. When you are asked for your social security number, ask why it is necessary and ask specifically about the vendor’s privacy policy if you disclose the information. Be sure to always explicitly state that you do not want your information shared.
  2. Do not provide your personal information to unsolicited vendors and callers. Be aware and stay away from potential phone and email scammers requesting that you to click on a link and enter or confirm personal data. Before disclosing any information, call the requesting company directly to confirm legitimacy.
  3. Make copies of all of the cards you carry. If your wallet is lost or stolen, you can immediately notify your banks/creditors and freeze your accounts.
  4. Use multiple, strong (capital and lowercase letters, numbers and characters) passwords. Do this for each of your different accounts and change them frequently (maybe the first of every month, so you don’t forget). This includes password-protecting your phone. Also, do not keep a list of the passwords under the heading “passwords”!
  5. Protect your financial documents. Shred documents and solicitations with your personal identifying information before discarding them. Make sure the documents you keep are in a secure (locked) place. If you keep your financial records on your computer, it pays to install a firewall and/or other anti-theft software.
  6. Secure your incoming mail. Make sure to remove all content from your mailbox daily or have your bills sent to a post office box. Mail your payments which contain identifying information from a post office or other secured location (not your home mailbox).
  7. Do not let your credit cards out of your sight! If there is no other option, pay in cash.  Make sure to get and keep all of your receipts to verify the charges are accurate. Also, do not inadvertently leave your receipts behind for a potential thief to pick up. Even around the house, to prevent getting your identity stolen by family members, keep receipts out sight.
  8. Sign up for the Do-Not-Call registry. (1-888-382-1222) Opt out of unsolicited pre-screened mail offers of credit and insurance by calling 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) or going online at

These seemingly basic tips can save you significant time, money and aggravation. You are your own best advocate. Take these steps to protect yourself and to sleep peacefully by minimizing the likelihood of an attack on your credit and identity.

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About Michelle Gershfeld

I’m a debt settlement and bankruptcy attorney who negotiates resolutions between clients and their creditors. I am also a real estate attorney involved in both sides of purchasing and selling distressed real property. I am passionate about teaching people about money and helping individuals of all ages achieve financial independence and success in a "no…

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