'Familiar' ID thefts especially hard on victim - Albuquerque Journal

‘Familiar’ ID thefts especially hard on victim

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

When experts talk about fraud committed within a family, many people picture the all-too-common cases in which adult children exploit a vulnerable parent in an effort to steal their money.

That’s not the situation a 38-year-old former Albuquerque resident found herself in when she learned her sister had been using her stolen identity for years.

The woman, who now lives in Mesa, Arizona, discovered in 2018 her driver’s license had been revoked because her sister had racked up 17 criminal charges in her name. The sister, who was still living in Albuquerque, also used the woman’s credit card to charge $4,000 in medical expenses.

“The more I looked into it, the deeper it got,” she said.

She suspects her sister, who is a less than a year younger, stole her Social Security card while visiting her in Arizona.

“I can’t even really explain to you how I feel,” the woman said in a phone interview. “I feel betrayed. I feel hurt. I feel let down by my own family. It’s devastating, to be honest.”

It’s called “familiar identity theft,” when the thief is a friend or family member – someone the victim knows and trusts.

It can be an especially difficult crime if other family members or friends urge the victim not to report the incident to police. Many victims ” feel they bear some responsibility for what has occurred,” according to the Identity Theft Resource Center. They also may feel it’s better to keep the theft within the family.

However, the resource center encourages victimized family members to file a police report as the first step toward undoing the damage. Doing so shows, in an official way, that “you’re not the one responsible for the fraudulent activity,” the resource center says.

In particular, if you don’t alert authorities about credit card fraud, “you’re accepting responsibility for the charges. That means the debt is yours, the damage to your credit report will follow you and the harm to your family relationships will be lasting.”

The center also advises general security steps when it comes to your ID, such as making sure computer devices are password-protected and securing personally identifying documents, such as bank statements, credit card statements or Social Security cards.

The Arizona woman has contacted police and is awaiting action. She has no idea where her sister is.

“I don’t know what I could have done differently,” she says. “It’s hard for me to forgive her.”

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A warning for businesses: Scammers are using new voice-mimicking software to leave messages that appear to come from a supervisor, according to the Better Business Bureau.

The technology can be used, for example, to trick employees into wiring money to a “vendor” for a rush project, the BBB says. The money instead goes to the scammer.

“This ‘voice cloning’ technology has recently advanced to the place where anyone with the right software can clone a voice from a very small audio sample,” the BBB says.

Here’s what to do, courtesy of the BBB:

• Make it an official company policy to confirm all change and payment requests before making a transfer, rather than relying on email or voicemail alone.

• Secure accounts by setting up multifactor authentication for email logins and other changes in email settings. Verify any changes in information about customers, employers or vendors.

Contact Ellen Marks at emarks@abqjournal.com or 505-823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-844-255-9210​.

 


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