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All in the Family: Dealing with Familiar Fraud

January 26, 2018

In previous blogs, we’ve looked at many faces of identity theft and how it happens. But what if the face of identity theft is someone you know? Unfortunately, “familiar fraud,” identity theft committed by a someone known to the victim, is all too common. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, over 500,000 children and 2 million seniors have already been affected by familiar theft, and these numbers are likely low because of underreporting.

Familiar fraud is usually committed by a parent, child, sibling, or friend of the victim-trusted people who have easy access to personal information. In one example, a mother opened a half dozen credit cards in her son’s name before she was discovered, racking up a debt of approximately $50,000. Since she was discovered, her son and daughter-in-law have struggled with the repercussions of reporting their parent. In another example, a woman noticed several hundred dollars in unauthorized credit card charges. Upon further review, it was determined that the thief was a 15-year-old member of her family and, again, the victim opted not to file charges.

Familiar fraud is an especially ugly form of identity theft. First, it’s unpleasant to think that you have to be on guard against people you know, but familiar fraud hinges on opportunity. For example, a nosy visitor to your home could collect your personal information in a matter of minutes by taking cell phone photos of personal documents from a desk, purse, or wallet. The sad truth is that you need to protect personal information at all times, even in your own home.

The other challenge is deciding whether or not to report the crime. In many cases, the “familiar” commits identity theft as a result of addiction or other personal issues. Victims may be conflicted about turning in a friend or family member and adding to that person’s problems. They may also fear that other friends or family will judge them for reporting the crimes.

If you become a victim of familiar fraud, experts recommend that you do report it. If you prefer, you can go to the bank or other institution where the fraud was committed and let them report to law enforcement, but you need to protect yourself and you need to put a stop to the bad behavior. Your “tough love” may keep that person from getting into deeper trouble, and it might be the wake-up call they need to turn themselves around. If other people blame you for speaking up, remind them that they could just as easily have become victims of your mutual acquaintance, and that you’re doing them and the thief a favor. ​

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