When identity theft is a family affair

Identity theft is much more than a personal inconvenience -- it's one of the fastest growing crimes in America. Tens of millions of consumers recently had their personal information compromised, and in some cases used to steal their identities, after a massive security breach at big-box retailer Target (TGT).

Javelin Strategy & Research found that in 2012 there were 12.6 million victims of identity fraud in the U.S. alone, or around one victim every three seconds.

A more shocking statistic, however, may be the number of persons who discover their identities have been stolen by family members in order to access the victim's credit. Numbers vary, but a study quoted by credit information firm Transunion revealed that nearly one-third of identity theft victims later determined that a family member or relative was responsible for the crime.

Axton Betz-Hamilton found out the news when she was 19 after she requested a copy of her credit report. Instead of a high score, she tells CBS News her report "was 10 pages long, full of fraudulent credit-card entries and associated agency entries."

Betz-Hamilton then discovered her identity had been stolen when she was just 11 -- by her mother.

"And not only did she steal my identity," Betz-Hamilton added, "she stole my father's identity, as well as my grandfather's identity. She ruined her own credit, and then moved on to ours."

Adam Levin, chairman an co-founder of Identity Theft 911, an identity protection services company, says it's not unusual for a family member to use a child's name and social security number to open a fraudulent account. And since most companies do not cross-reference ages, the crime often goes undetected.

"It may only surface when the child actually applies for a credit product, whether they're applying for a student loan, or their car or their first credit card," he said.

In Betz-Hamilton's case, she discovered the ID theft after her mother had died. "The fundamental aspect of, 'This woman is my mother, she's there to take care of me,' that's been shattered," she said. It took some time for her credit score to recover.

Betz-Hamilton has made her experience part of her career. As an assistant professor of consumer studies at Eastern Illinois University, she's currently researching child identity theft and financial abuse within families.

The Federal Trade Commission, meanwhile, has an online guide to help consumers recover from identity theft.

  • Bruce Kennedy

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