Identity Theft and Family

A reader sent me this heartbreaking story that I feel I need to share with you all.

I’m writing on behalf of a friend who just graduated from college two years ago and is trying to get on her financial feet. When she was young her mother used her identity several times to get loans and open credit cards. Her mother is a homeless nomad who has not taken responsibility for any of these accounts and has ruined my friend’s credit. She doesn’t even know how many loans and credit cards were obtained in her name, if any are paid of and to what degree, etc. She tries to run her credit report but can’t because she can’t answer the basic questions about her last address or last loan because it’s all her mother’s information.

Her mother has not used her identity for financial gain, that she knows of, in about three years. My friend is trying to be responsible. She has a good job, no debt of her own (just what her mother accrued!), and is trying to live more frugally. She’s been turned down several times for a credit card and obviously, can’t get any other sort of loan. Is there any way to get her mother’s mistakes off her report? It seems like identity theft to me, but I’m not sure how to advise her. Could a lawyer help her clear her report? It doesn’t sound like her mother will be able to pay for any outstanding charges, and I don’t know if suing her would do much good. Since many of these accounts were opened when my friend was under 18, I just can’t believe that she’d be held resposible for all of it. It’s just not fair, and I feel awful for her. Thanks in advance for your help.

Wow, that’s a mess.

First of all, reading stories like these really brings to light how lucky and blessed I was to have two incredibly wonderful parents. If you have a parent out there that loves you, even if your relationship is strained, read that story above one more time and think about giving your folks a phone call. I know I did – I just called my mother and had a good chat with her.

Now, how can this problem be addressed?

The first step I would take would be to contact each credit agency directly and ask them for suggested directions. Explain to them the whole situation, and work with them to work backwards through each of the creditors that have notes on the report.

This is going to be a long process and it will involve a lot of time on the phone. Be prepared for some serious time investment spread out over a long period. Expect to have to escalate this situation regularly, as the person on the phone when you first call probably won’t be equipped to handle this situation. Expect to get some rejections – keep trying and hammering away and escalating.

Second, get some form of credit monitoring service. Once the reports are straightened out, some sort of credit monitoring service needs to be put in place in case any of this happens again.

Third, consider changing your Social Security number. This can be done and is often warranted in cases of harassment – and I’ve got to think (though I don’t know for sure) that this constitutes harassment. Since the person in question is young, they have plenty of time to build up new credit.

Fourth, get involved with political movements pushing for individual credit reform. A big part of this problem comes from the fact that it’s actually quite easy to pretend to be someone else and get easy credit. There needs to be more evidence that credit is being granted to the actual person who the request appears to be coming from, not a paper entity. Identity theft is a real problem and it’s growing.

Finally, don’t give up hope. You didn’t do anything wrong, and anyone who studies your situation will be able to figure that out. Just be patient and realize that this is a sufficiently complex and knotty problem that will take some time to resolve – it won’t all be fixed in a day.

Good luck!

Do readers have further suggestions for this person?

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