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Identity theft is the ultimate violation of privacy and safety, affecting millions of Americans each year. If that weren’t bad enough, nearly one-third of identity theft victims later discovered that a family member committed the crime, according to a TransUnion study. Dealing with the emotional and practical implications of identity theft is never easy, especially when the thief is — or was — a trusted relative. Keep your cool by taking the following steps to minimize the fallout. While your relationship may be damaged forever, your credit shouldn’t suffer the same fate.
- Confirm your suspicions. If you suspect identity theft, the first thing to do is confirm it. Order free copies of your credit reports from TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. Review each document carefully and highlight information that points to fraud.
- Freeze the activity. Identify the affected accounts and contact your creditors immediately. Be prepared to list the items that were purchased fraudulently in order to help your creditors repair your account.
- Alert the credit bureaus. Alert the credit bureaus after putting an end to ongoing fraud. Your creditors may offer to do this on your behalf, but it is important to follow up to ensure that no damage remains on your credit report because it could affect your credit score. Ask the bureaus to place a fraud alert in your file for the maximum amount of time. A fraud alert requires verbal or written confirmation before new accounts are opened in your name, thus preventing future cases of ID theft.
- Take precautions. Family members have easier access to sensitive information like credit cards and account files—access you must prevent in the future. Take precautions by storing your birth certificate, Social Security card and passport in a safety deposit box at your bank. Keep credit cards secure by locking them in a safe when you aren’t using them. Change the passwords to your online accounts and lock your username to prevent cyber crimes.
Once you have secured your accounts, perhaps the most challenging part of the process is deciding how to respond to your family member’s betrayal. You have a few options:
- Confront your relative. Airing the truth could be the best solution for everyone. Confront your relative with proof of theft and ask them to explain. Tell them that you have contacted your creditors and the bureaus to end the fraud. Discuss how they plan to repair the damage they have done including repaying you for stolen funds.
- Contact the police. Whether you feel unsafe or simply do not want to discuss the issue with your family member, contacting the police is another valid option. Keep in mind that filing a police report will likely result in the arrest and charging of your family member, an outcome you should prepare for if it occurs.
- Repair your credit. Whether or not you involve the police, it’s imperative to repair any damage done to your credit. While most credit card charges are reversed in cases of identity theft, stolen cash is another story. Talk to our team of professionals about your options. We can help you navigate the days ahead.