No one wants to become the victim of identity theft at the hands of a relative, or to have a family member hurt one’s credit. But when financial problems like these can be traced to a next of kin—someone you probably trusted who betrayed you by using your social security number, credit cards or bank account to make unauthorized purchases—you may need some extra help to turn this situation around.
Family members that share a joint account or anyone that has access to your personal information can end up wrecking your credit, with some serious long-term consequences. Here are some steps you can take to get things back on track when a family member hurts your credit.
Recognize the Problem
Even though it can be hard to believe that a family member would knowingly use your accounts and personal information to get a loan or buy things without your permission, you need to acknowledge that you are dealing with a case of identity theft.
You are not responsible for their financial obligations and mistakes, and you do have the option of turning in the “thief.”
Contact Banks and Credit Bureaus
You can and should contact your banks and credit card companies to put an alert on your accounts to detect any suspicious activity. You also have the option of putting a freeze on all cards, so that whoever has taken advantage of you can’t do further damage.
Likewise, you can put a special kind of fraud alert or credit freeze on your actual credit reports with the three main credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. This will prevent any new credit accounts from being opened in your name or with your social security number.
Review Statements and Accounts Diligently
Get into a routine of monitoring all of your accounts to detect any unauthorized transactions and review your billing statements carefully for any errors or mistakes.
You may need to monitor your accounts and credit report for several months or more after you suspect identity theft.
Confront the Family Member
Even if the perpetrator is a close relative, you will need to address the situation and point out how disrespectful their recent activities are to you. Don’t be afraid to let that person know that they have damaged your finances and that you are dealing with some long-term implications of their behavior.
If you have a joint account, walk them through the process of contacting companies and creditors to cut off service in their name and close accounts. You want to get written confirmation of these transactions, or at least hear for yourself that it’s been done.
Prepare for an Ultimatum
Even though it can be difficult to issue an ultimatum with someone who is so close to you, you will need to take steps to inform the person that their financial messes are not yours to clean up. Issuing an ultimatum may involve letting them know that you will contact creditors on their behalf if they don’t take steps to resolve the problem themselves within a reasonable amount of time.
By taking these steps, you can minimize the credit damage done by a family member and hopefully stop that person from victimizing other friends or relatives too.