Q: My sister opened an account in my name about four or five years ago, and now she’s lost her job and can’t make the payments, and I cannot afford to pay her monthly minimum, which is a crazy amount. Is there any way to negotiate with them without messing up my credit? I’ve worked really hard to have decent credit score.
A visitor, Chicago, IL
A: I just have to ask. Why would your sister open an account in your name without your permission?
I ask because, technically, what she did is called identity theft.
An identity thief will open new accounts in other people’s names and rack up debts on existing accounts. To do that, they may use people’s Social Security numbers, bank account information, addresses or phone numbers. Some people have been denied jobs or insurance or have been arrested for crimes they did not commit–all because their identity was stolen. Identity fraud occurs when someone takes illegally-obtained personal information to use for his or her own financial gain.
Identity theft in the U.S. increased 23% in 2008, to 10.1 million reported cases, according to the Javelin Strategy and Research 2009 Identity Fraud Survey Report. More than 36 million people have been victims of identity theft in the last four years, and identity theft was the top complaint to the FTC nine years in a row.
And the sad part about this crime is the perpetrator is often someone you know–your mama, daddy, cousin, brother and, yes, sister. An estimated 13% of all victims reported a family member or relative as the person responsible for misusing their personal information.
So, what should you do if you discover that a family member stole your identity?
You rat them out.
That’s right. Report the theft by filing a police report. And don’t feel one bit guilty about turning them in, because the person has violated you.
If you report the theft, then you are not responsible for the charges. Although the creditor might pursue them for payment, in all likelihood, the person won’t go to jail for stealing just your personal information.
It’s important to know that if you find out about the theft and you don’t take the necessary steps to dispute the charges, you become liable.
If you are unwilling to file a police report, then, yes, you can certainly try to negotiate for a more affordable monthly payment. It might work. If not, sorry, you are stuck.
Perhaps, while you are trying to fix this problem you did not create, you might get irate enough to see the injustice of your having to deal with a big ding to your good credit name.