What If Your Spouse Steals Your Identity?
Early this year, Giorgio Fiorenza was found guilty of spousal identity theft and wire fraud after taking out a $750,000 loan using his spouse’s identity [*].
With easy access to each other’s personal information and intertwined finances, spousal identity fraud is hardly a mystery. Your spouse may know your credit card numbers, driver's license information, and even your Social Security number (SSN).
This makes improper access to your information all the more likely — and easy for your spouse to open a credit card in your name without your knowledge. A plummeting credit score, higher interest rates, and fewer credit options could send your finances reeling.
What Is Spousal Identity Theft?
Spousal identity theft occurs when your spouse (or ex-spouse) misuses your financial information to commit fraud. This includes signing documents, opening bank accounts, or applying for credit cards — all without your consent.
In many cases, spousal identity theft preys on the shared personal connection between spouses, especially in the midst of a bitter conflict or separation. Outward signs of such turmoil can look like this.
10 Signs That May Indicate Spousal Identity Theft
- Unfamiliar calls from debt collectors: If you’re receiving calls from unfamiliar debt collection agencies, your spouse may have racked up debts in your name. This can easily happen when someone has access to your personal information.
- Authentication messages from your bank: When you try to transfer money out of your account, your bank often sends an authentication message via text or email to verify the transfer. But if you didn’t initiate this request, it means that someone else did, such as your spouse.
- A sudden drop in credit score: If your spouse uses your identity to unlawfully open new credit card accounts without paying the bills, you’ll suffer the consequences. Once you notice a drop in your credit score, look into your credit history to find irregularities.
- Unrecognized transactions on your bank statement: Every time you receive your bank statement, be sure to scrutinize each transaction. If you notice an unfamiliar transaction, contact your bank for proper investigation.
- Unexpected credit rejection: If you meet all the requirements when applying for a new credit line — only to be denied — this could be a sign that someone has tampered with your credit. Check your credit report for suspicious activity, and contact your credit provider immediately.
- Unapproved benefit claims: A spouse can illegally file for health or unemployment benefits in your name. For instance, they can forge your signature on a loan or other financial documents. If you notice this, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at IdentityTheft.gov.
- Missing or stolen IDs: Losing your IDs risks compromising your financial security. For example, if your driver’s license is in your spouse’s possession, they can claim insurance benefits in your name.
- Unfamiliar package deliveries in your name: Did you receive a package that you never ordered? Someone with access to your personal information may have used your credit card. Call the credit card company and notify them of the fraud.
- Restricted access to utilities: If amid a separation your spouse reroutes household utility bills, your payments might no longer be applied to your utilities — but rather to those of your spouse. When this happens, your electricity, water, or cellular services may get shut off.
- A warrant for your arrest: You could end up being charged if your spouse fraudulently uses your identity to commit crimes. If you get wind of a possible warrant in your name, take legal action by contacting your attorney for professional guidance.
If a Family Member Stole Your Identity, Do This:
- Set up a fraud alert
- Alert your creditors (or any affected parties)
- Clear off any outstanding balances
- Report fraud to the FTC
- File a police report
- Plan your future finances
Beyond the breach of trust, a stolen identity erodes personal relationships. The emotional, physical, and psychological turmoil experienced by identity theft victims is sometimes irreversible. Follow these steps to protect yourself and your identity if you suspect fraud.
Set up a fraud alert
A fraud alert is a free notice on your credit report, mandating that credit card companies and other lenders verify your identity before issuing a new line of credit.
With a fraud alert in place, there’s an extra layer of security on your account to deter identity thieves from opening unlawful credit cards in your name. You also have the option to choose which of the three types of fraud alerts available is best for you.
- Initial fraud alert: This fraud alert lasts for one year; you can renew it every year once it elapses.
- Extended fraud alert: This fraud alert lasts for seven years and allows indefinite renewals.
- Active duty fraud alert: This fraud alert is exclusively for members on active duty and lasts for one year. There’s also an option for renewal each year, depending on the length of deployment.
To set up a fraud alert, do this:
Contact one of the three major credit bureaus and provide all the necessary documents needed to verify your identity.
- Equifax: Call 1-800-349-9960 or place a request online
- Experian: Call 1-888-397-3742 or place a request online
- TransUnion: Call 1-888-909-8872 or place a request online
Alert your creditors (or any affected parties)
If a family member has stolen your identity, contact your bank, credit card company, or any other affected party right away. Ask to be directed to their fraud department and explain your situation.
A bounced check, for example, could indicate that someone had unauthorized access to your bank account. With your bank’s help, you’ll need to change the password to your online banking profile and close any new accounts in your name.
Your bank will also help you stop payments on any pending transactions, as well as cancel and replace any debit cards that are associated with the compromised bank account.
Clear off any outstanding balances
Once a family member commits a crime in your name, it’s almost impossible for government authorities or credit issuers to forgive any outstanding debt.
However, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires debt collectors to cease collection of disputed debt until they can verify the details by mail of the original creditor.[*]
Identity theft victims must inform collectors within 30 days of receiving the initial notice of debt for this provision to kick in. When reaching out to collection agencies, request the following information:
- Contact information for the agency personnel with whom you’ll be working
- Name, address, and account number of the referring credit issuer
- Details of the fraudulent account — the date of opening, transaction details, debt amounts, and identification used to open these accounts
- Evidence that you are a victim of identity theft: Beyond the FTC Identity Theft Report and/or a police report, what other documentation is required?
Report fraud to the FTC
It’s not enough to clear out your debts; you also need to file an identity theft and fraud report with the FTC. With this report, you can publicly prove your identity was stolen, hence making it easier to clear your name.
Moreover, this will make it easier for banks and creditors to close down every fraudulent account in your name. Visit IdentiyTheft.gov and follow the instructions to file your complaint.
File a police report
For identity theft cases in which you know the perpetrator — like a family member — you must file a police report.
- Some banks will refuse your claims without a verified police report.
- The family member might have used your identity to commit other crimes in the past, and your name is on the police record.
- Refusing to file a report may make you complicit in the crime.
To file a police report, visit your local police station and bring your FTC Identity Theft Report, government-issued photo IDs, proof of your address, and specific evidence of spousal identity theft.
Plan your future finances
Identity theft by trusted family members can be unimaginable — but it happens. On the flip side, planning your future finances to be fraud-proof reduces your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft.
Here’s what you can do:
- Consider closing any joint financial accounts with your spouse.
- Monitor your credit report and your mail for any notices from creditors or government agencies.
- Tackle debts early on to prevent interest from accumulating. Also dispute any fraudulent debt in your name within 30 days of receiving the notice of debt.
- Secure an identity theft protection service that offers insurance coverage for expenses incurred during the identity recovery process.
To Prevent Spousal Identity Theft in the Future:
- Actively monitor your credit: Keep track of your credit card statements and yearly credit reports to detect early signs of fraud. Alternatively, you can use Aura’s credit monitoring service to receive alerts in near real-time for new inquiries to your credit file.
- Consider family identity theft protection: Aura’s Family Plan provides coverage for up to five members of your family (including children and adults). This plan includes premium identity theft protection, credit monitoring, online security and privacy tools, and $1 million identity theft insurance coverage for every adult member.
- Review any joint accounts/debit or credit cards: Close or separate any existing joint accounts that you and your spouse may share.
- Think about debt and debt relief: Inquire about debt relief plans with your bank to repay your debt in partial payments.
- Separate sensitive documents: Safeguard sensitive documents like financial statements, credit reports, deeds, and tax-related documents. Even better, shred any documents if you no longer need them — and choose paperless options going forward.
Identity Theft Is a Crime No Matter What the Circumstances
An Indiana woman was sentenced to a five-year prison sentence after she stole her husband’s identity in a bankruptcy scam.[*]
For Giorgio Fiorenza, the charge of aggravated identity theft could mean a mandatory sentence of two years in prison, a year of supervised release, and a penalty of $250,000.
Spousal identity theft cases like these are painful, especially if the fraud is drawn out over a long period of time. Undoing the damage to your finances — and your family — can also be harrowing.
Aura’s White Glove Fraud Resolution Team can walk you through a mitigation and remediation plan to help recuperate existing financial losses and prevent future fraud.
You may be eligible for reimbursement of up to $1 million in insurance coverage for specific costs and expenses incurred.