Updated: 9/28/2010 9:00 AM ET|
When a parent steals your identity
Consider filing that police report. Taking what seems like a drastic step may be the only way to get your credit cleared and to drive home to the perpetrator the seriousness of what he or she has done. "I'm a believer in tough love," Foley said.
Try mediation. A few victims who were unwilling to file crime reports but who had remorseful parents have been able to get their names removed from credit accounts those parents established. Using an attorney mediator, they had their parents draw up an agreement acknowledging sole responsibility for the account, Foley said.
An attorney mediator is an additional cost, but you show good intent that way, Foley said. A local bar association can provide referrals to mediators.
But credit issuers typically won't accept such agreements without a significant payment toward the debt. And this assumes the account hasn't been charged off or sent to collections, which significantly reduces the creditors' interest in cooperating.
Think about bankruptcy. If you can't get your parent to take responsibility for the debt, you have a number of bad options: struggling to pay the bills yourself, ignoring the debts and hoping the collectors eventually go away or filing for bankruptcy. A bankruptcy filing would further trash your credit scores but might allow you to erase the debt, get rid of the collectors and start rebuilding your credit.
Consider changing your Social Security number. This is a drastic and difficult step, one that the Social Security Administration typically discourages. It's not a good solution if you have a significant work or credit history that you could lose in the changeover. But if you're young and just starting out and you can keep the new number a secret from your parent, it could be one solution. The Social Security Administration's website has information about getting a new number, and the Identity Theft Resource Center has a fact sheet.
Be vigilant about your credit reports. Here's one case where investing in credit monitoring might be a smart idea. At the very least, have fraud alerts put on your credit reports at all three major bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Unfortunately, lenders often ignore fraud alerts, but they're still worth trying.
You also have the right to freeze your credit, which should prohibit anyone from opening an account in your name. (It takes a secret personal identification number, which only you know, to unlock your report so that credit can be granted.)
Expect some emotional fallout. Common reactions to identity theft include feelings of rage, betrayal, isolation and financial insecurity -- emotions that are often amplified when the thief is a parent. Getting therapy can be helpful, as can talking to supportive friends, a clergy member or a support group.
"The emotional toll is very deep," Foley said. "It can be permanently scarring."
Liz Weston is the Web's most-read personal-finance writer. She is the author of several books, most recently "The 10 Commandments of Money: Survive and Thrive in the New Economy" (find it on Bing). Weston's award-winning columns appear every Monday and Thursday, exclusively on MSN Money. Join the conversation and send in your financial questions on Liz Weston's Facebook fan page.
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