Last year, almost 10 million people suffered some form of identity theft. As painful as that number is, even more cringe-worthy is the large number of those cases that involved a family member who has stolen another family member’s personal information.
We’ve heard stories of people chasing down complete strangers that have stolen their identity and the joy they’ve felt from making sure these people faced penalties for doing their evil deeds. The situation can become completely different if the perpetrator is a parent of the victim. I’ve witnessed that very situation happen with a good friend from college.
Sara’s case of family identity theft
I met Sara my junior year of college and we instantly became great friends. She was an outspoken, fun-loving, life-of-the-party type with a magnetism that drew people to her like bees to honey. We lived the lives of typical broke college students on tight budgets but always managed to save enough money for beer and ramen noodles. Her parents divorced while she was small. Even though she was raised by her mom, she and her dad were still close despite their ups and downs.
One day after class, she asked me for advice on a sticky situation she’d found herself in. Her dad had asked her to co-sign a loan for two ATV’s he planned to purchase for her younger half-brothers. He also asked her not to tell her mom. The shadiness of his request led us to believe it was probably a bad idea. Yet after a few weeks of being pressured, she caved in, sent her dad her sensitive information, and co-signed the loan.
How her dad ruined her credit
Time quickly passed and before we knew it, we were seniors with the fear…uhhhh, I mean excitement…of graduation fast approaching. After a weekend trip home, Sara called and urged me to come checkout the early graduation present she had gotten from her dad, a brand new SUV! He knew her financial situation, and that her current vehicle was about to die. This gift was meant to ease her stress during her final year in school, so he claimed.
She was completely elated until a few months later when she learned that not only had her dad used her information to co-sign the loan he purchased the vehicle with, he also stopped making payments and the car was in danger of being repossessed. At this point, she could have filed a complaint with authorities and taken legal action against him. Instead, her emotions took over and she accepted his apologies and his word to start paying on the note. But it soon became clear that he wasn’t going to pay up, and my friend had to find the money each month to avoid losing the car. She let the loan for the ATV’s, which her dad also stopped making payments on, go to collections.
Destroyed credit and a destroyed relationship
Over the next few years her dad continued to obtain thousands of dollars of credit in loans and credit cards with her information. Her plan of action was to let the collections pile up until her credit was so ruined it would be worthless to him. The plan worked — he hasn’t been able to open any accounts in her name this past year.
The downside to this plan, of course, is that Sara can’t open accounts in her name either. Despite being in her mid 20’s and making a high five figures a year, she must rely on her mother to make all the major purchases she needs. Sadly, the emotional ramifications she would face from turning her dad in are worse than her destroyed credit. Her alternative has been to limit his means to contact her by moving and changing her phone number. Their relationship consists of being friends on Myspace, and they haven’t spoken in years.
It’s easy to assume that if placed in her shoes I’d play by different rules and be willing to fork over anyone who came between me and my credit. The dark reality, though, is that I’d probably let my parent off the hook too.
What would you do? Is having stellar credit more important than relationships with your loved ones? Would you turn in a relative for opening lines of credit in your name without your permission?