/The Moneyist: My stepdaughter’s mother stole her identity! She leased an apartment and took out credit cards in her name — what should we do?

The Moneyist: My stepdaughter’s mother stole her identity! She leased an apartment and took out credit cards in her name — what should we do?

Dear Moneyist,

My stepdaughter was taken from us by her biological mother more than five years ago. She is now back with us, and I am proud to say she is doing great. Her mother, we discovered, stole her identity when our daughter was a minor.

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Our daughter wanted to get a phone in her name because she is now 18 years old. That’s when she learned she already has a credit score. Her mother used her I.D. to lease an apartment, among other things. Our daughter would like to straighten this out.

How does she go about fixing this? On a side note, her mother passed away last year.

Kelly in New York

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Dear Kelly,

Your side note is probably one of the most important parts of this story. Your stepdaughter’s mother has passed away and, for better or for worse, that fact makes this process much easier. In theory, at least. If she were still alive, your daughter would be at risk of repeatedly having her identity stolen and she may also be less reluctant to report the crime as that would mean giving her mother’s name to the police. Many people in similar situations try to avoid the latter, thereby making it more likely that the identity thief will re-offend and/or any outstanding debts go unpaid.

Also see: My mother stole my identity and racked up $500,000 in debt

I’m thinking of this woman, whose mother-in-law spent $50,000 on credit cards in her husband’s name. As I told her: “People who commit fraud are not dressed in black body stockings like pantomime villains. They look like nice people. They’re sitting next to you, flipping through the latest John Grisham and sipping a latte in Starbucks. They might even like to knit sweaters for their grandchildren and play bridge.” She said this woman didn’t know quite what she was doing. I believed she knew exactly what she was doing.

Contact the police, the three major credit bureaus (Experian

EXPN, +0.87%,


TRU, +0.00%

 and Equifax

EFX, +0.60%

) and your stepdaughter’s credit-card company and bank. Assuming there wasn’t any damage to her credit score, the process should be relatively straightforward. It’s far worse for people when they are refused loans or quoted astronomical interest rates because someone has stolen their identity. Frighteningly, it can be somebody you know and who has access to your accounts. If your mother-in-law were still alive, I would also suggest freezing her credit history to prevent new, erroneous accounts being opened.

I’m glad that you caught this when you did. Any bad debts could come back to haunt your stepdaughter if she were trying to take out a home or car loan.

Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, family feuds, friends or any tricky issues relating to manners and money? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyist and please include the state where you live (no full names will be used).

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