Lianne Parker at Billfold: 'Growing up, it was common to see my mother go on shopping sprees, and then hide the bags in her closet before my dad got home. The closest we ever came to discussing the event that began my descent into mountains of credit card debt was her quietly saying over the phone, “I’m sorry I ruined your credit score.”'

20 Responses to “When your identity thief is your mom”

  1. pocoTOTO says:

    I had my mom do this with utility bills. It really puts you in a nasty spot. In my case, I was able to document being out of the country during the entire time unpaid electricity bills were accumulating in my name. I then sent a letter to the collection agency making it clear than any further harassment about the issue would result in a lawsuit. I neither heard from them again nor do I know what/if my mother ever ended up sorting it out. 

  2. Aaron Weber says:

    It happens quite a lot more than you’d think. 

  3. HDN says:

    Family will screw you first, they have all the access.

  4. Boundegar says:

    I’ve heard some large percentage of identity theft cases are perpetrated by family members.  Who has easier access to your data?

  5. Tavie says:

    Yeah, I’ve seen this happen more times than I’d care to think about.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      Why are these people not sending their parents to prison, where they belong? For one thing, it would make a much more convincing case to get the debt cleared and credit restored. And for another thing, they deserve eternal hellfire.

  6. fuzzyfuzzyfungus says:

    I, for one, hope that we have some people on the social science/psych side(who aren’t working for advertisiers to encourage this behavior) who are looking at the question of why shopping can apparently be a behavior with strong enough pull that people will exhibit all the stereotypical “you can’t trust an addict” behaviors in order to engage in it…

    That seems like the really alarming aspect of something like this. That heavily dependent people do unpleasant things in a jam isn’t news. That people can have shopping habits that are as punchy as a good drug habit seems disturbing.

    • ldobe says:

      It’s the dopamine.  Always with the dopamine.

      Shopping is quite similar to foraging behavior, and evolution has developed a mechanism for making tedious and boring foraging activities fun by giving us a big spike of lovely dopamine in our reward circuits when we encounter and take advantage of what we perceive as a great bargain.  Without that reward mechanism, we would probably have had a much harder time being motivated to find food that way.  Would you rather make tools, or go trudging through sticker bushes and underbrush on the slim chance of maybe finding a bird nest with some eggs, as well as some picked over berry plants?  Only if you get a big reward for doing the hard work, and nothing feels better than coming across a jackpot of food when you’re hungry.  You get a big squirt of reward juice.  Just like doing a line of coke, or smoking a hot bulb of meth.  It’s all about firing the reward circuit which both feels great, as well as reinforcing the behavior that triggers it’s own activation.

      • fuzzyfuzzyfungus says:

        Seems plausible enough, though it doesn’t tell us much about why the  seriousness is so variable between people, what sorts of environmental or hereditary factors might modify that severity, and how we might be able to tinker with it without accidentally tanking all other flavors of motivation as well…

        We do(accidentally) have a few drugs that increase problematic behavior; but you’d really be looking to go in the other direction in this case.

        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2665974/

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      My contractor friend had a client who won a million or so in the lottery.  Bought a very modest house, like $150K.  Shopped at QVC until the house was packed to the ceiling with never-opened boxes of stuff.  Ran out of money.  Lost the house.  Took less than two years.

  7. extra88 says:

    I know someone who had a parent take multiple credit cards out in their name. Fortunately, the parent didn’t wreck their credit score and eventually paid the cards off but it was still upsetting. 

    The only formal actions available were to press charges against the parent, which they didn’t want to do, and the only preventative option was to try go get a change of Social Security number. This was quite a while ago though and now there seem to be more “lock” and “alert” options to help prevent credit being taken out in your name.

    In terms of digging one’s self out of debt, when I was in my twenties I had a good experience with Consumer Credit Counseling Services (in New York). They got most of the credit cards to significantly reduce their interest rates, worked out a realistic monthly payment with me, and I wrote them a single check for them to distribute, taking only a $10/month fee for themselves. I was determined to get rid of the debt as soon as possible and was paying well over the minimums for the cards and often more than the monthly amount I agreed to. They were good enough to put up with my insistence that the minimum amounts be paid out to the lower interest cards and the bulk of my payment go to the highest interest card until it was zeroed out (the norm was to split payments evenly across creditors).

  8. Alexander Borsi says:

    I have no idea how people rationalize problems like this…

  9. ChickieD says:

    I know a woman whose mom stole her identity. She had been very sick as a child and her mother did not believe her daughter would live to be an adult. The mom would indulge her daughter in every material comfort, and probably some for herself too, using credit cards she took out in the daughter’s name. 

    It sounded like a horrible ordeal for this woman to endure as a young woman who was not only sick but having to clean up her credit and deal with her crazy mom all through her teen years/early adulthood.I met this lady when she was an adult through a childhood friend of hers. It was very confusing, as she changed names in the process of cleaning up her credit. However, her old friend would forget to call her by her new name, which she preferred to be called, and always call her by her given name.

  10. James Hardy says:

    The thing that shocked me was this phrase

    Shaken by it, I let that terrible credit score give me free rein on the remainder of my $9,000 Visa limit. I figured my credit score was already in the crapper, so I might as well enjoy the credit I did have left. What was the point of being responsible now?

    I’ve had my fair share of debt problems, but I was never as reckless as this. Her attitude suggests to me that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, and I hope that both her and her mother seek some counselling

    • Tavie says:

      The thing that shocked me was this phrase
      Shaken by it, I let that terrible credit score give me free rein on the remainder of my $9,000 Visa limit. I figured my credit score was already in the crapper, so I might as well enjoy the credit I did have left. What was the point of being responsible now?

      I’ve had my fair share of debt problems, but I was never as reckless as this. Her attitude suggests to me that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, and I hope that both her and her mother seek some counselling

      This isn’t shocking to me. I’m not condoning her behavior – but I can certainly empathize with someone being in a bad situation, a hole they themselves didn’t dig, and then being faced with a choice to either continue living in deprivation and austerity (and it’s depressing to live poor in NYC – I know) or to say, “Eff it, I’m screwed anyway, I’m going to go ahead and treat myself to a nice dinner out”. Once that first choice is made it enables the next “nice dinnner out” or taxi ride or ball of cashmere yarn, and then it becomes “What am I depriving myself for? NOT taking this taxi isn’t going to get me out of debt and I didn’t even get myelf in it in the first place so I may as well enjoy myself.”

      It may not be logical but when you’re depressed and feel you’re in a hopeless situation, you feel more justified in taking comforts that may screw you in the long run. See: anyone who has ever cheated on a diet, ever.

      Again – not arguing it’s the morally correct thing to do, but it’s in no way shocking.

  11. CastanhasDoPara says:

    Good friend of mine’s father started putting all of his assets (cars, house, etc) into his son’s name when he turned 18. Guy only found out about this about two years ago when he went to get financial aid to go to school.  As far as he’s told me his father did this in order to continue evading taxes (can’t repo and auction something that doesn’t belong to the evader, I guess) and as a screwy sort of legacy/inheritance tax avoidance scheme. Didn’t sound like that bad of an idea to me at first. But when you consider that this screwed up any financial aid (thinking more like grants here, lenders were still throwing money at my friend because that’s what they do with the college set) and the possibility of him qualifying for a first time home-buyer mortgage dude got screwed over hard, by his own tax-cheating, dead-beat, jerk-wad father.

    I told him to take out a bunch of credit-cards in his father’s name and just max them out as a form of quid pro quo or sell the house and just cut off communication with the father or just have the Sheriff evict his dad as a non-paying tenant or all of the above. Too bad the guy is pretty much a saint and said he could never do that even though his father is a crazy POS that probably belongs in the mental ward or jail or both.

    • Martijn says:

      Don’t take out a bunch of credit cards, just sell the house that you already own to buy the house that you want. Apparently it’s his house.

  12. ChuckieJesus says:

    I’ve seen this working with poor people – mom wrecks up her credit rating, can’t get an apartment, can’t hook up the utilities, gets her baby’s SSN and hooks everything up, then gets behind on bills again and tries to get help with them. It takes a shit ton of time to untangle and get the bills back in the parents’ names, and when it comes to utility bills, there’s also the very real dangers of kids sleeping in no heat, or having to do homework in the dark.

    tl;dr: It sucks to be poor, and when you’re desperate, you’ll try anything.

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