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My Mom Stole My Identity

My situation may be different from most. I suspect others will talk about debt and credit cards, but my financial planning wreck should be talked about too, because it’s very important. I’m now 28, and my financial troubles lasted six years.

When I was 19 I went away to college (not too far away). Of course as we all know, credit card companies stalk you so you can begin your journey of credit card debt. I started school in August and by December I had about six credit cards.

To make a long story short, my mother thought it was best for me to send my credit cards home. She thought that as I was about three hours away from home, having so many would make me use credit cards irresponsibly and spend them on friends and other nonsense. After listening to my mother, I sent my credit cards home and thought no more about it.

Let’s fast forward a bit.

When I went home on breaks and holidays I noticed my mother using a credit card. I knew she didn’t have one but at the same time it didn’t matter to me. I never thought for a second she was using my credit card — 6 years ago, identity theft wasn’t anything I’d heard about.

Not long after, I left my mother’s home and moved in with a friend. About 8 months later I started to receive phone calls and bills from collectors. Apparently while I was staying on campus, the credit card companies were sending my bills home; and I can only assume that my mother threw them out. (Later I learned that she had made some monthly payments on them).

Scared out of my pants, I called my mother. She basically told me three lines: “You’re young, this will be fixed in 7 years;” “Nothing is going to happen;” or “I will help you pay.”

I was the type to always respect my mother, and so I did just that. I never even considered going to the police, because I never thought it was an option. So when I did receive the bills, it was already too late to schedule payments because they were already well into collections. Back in 1998, at age 19, I was telling myself not to worry. Since I was in school and didn’t spend the money, I thought, the problem would erase itself. But we all know that wasn’t the case.

Crazy thing was, back in the late 90′s I watched a slew of older friends and family members disregard bills, not pay, and still get more credit cards. They would get repossessions but were still able to get cars. As a result, I just believed my mother: this would go away.

When I did finally decide to tell the collection people of my problem, though, of course they didn’t want to hear me. They wanted their money. Being young and scared of my mother, I did nothing but continue to ignore the bills.

Fast-forward again.

Two years into this I was scared to ask my mother to pay. Of course others around me had opinions, but I was raised to respect my mother to the fullest and so I never did anything but mention it to her in passing. I never truly addressed the issue.

For the next 4 years I had to learn the hard way. When I applied for credit cards, I didn’t get anything. When it was time to get an apartment, I couldn’t get anything.

As I matured and realized that I couldn’t live like this, and with only one way to prove that I was serious (in the eyes of the judge), I filed a police report and sued my mother. It was the hardest family and financial decision that I’ve had to make. I suffered a long and hard ordeal. I lost many of nights of sleep and buckets of tears because of the turmoil, and I had a hard time convincing judges and lawyers. At times I felt they treated me like I was the criminal.

In the end I had a great lawyer that dealt with a lot of the major credit card companies on my behalf, and I won a modest amount of money. Don’t get me wrong: The result wasn’t easy, and I would give all that money won back to have my identity when I was younger. The process has had its drawbacks on my personality, as well: I’ve become very fanatic about money, pay every bill before it is due, and am very scared of debt (even good debt).

I guess the moral of the story is that identity theft isn’t necessarily from strangers — it can be your very own blood.

Mint’s Take Away:

Identity theft is never an easy issue to deal with and can especially be more difficult when the perpetrator is someone you know.

According to the FTC, about 9 percent of all identity theft are committed by family member or relative. That means that 1 out of 11 cases of identity theft is an inside-the-family job.

Here are some resources for those facing the same situation as the story submitter above:

  • When You Personally Know the Identity Thief
  • Identity Theft and Children

Train Wreck Tuesdays are a weekly post of horrible financial mistakes. They are posted anonymously. Submit your story; if you’re selected, you get a free personal finance book. The best comment gets the same prize!