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May 11, 2015

Fraud: When Mom Is Your Worst Enemy

Summary:

More than 30% of identity theft cases involve a family member or close friend. The reason is simple: access. Even moms commit fraud.

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Mother’s Day is a special time to celebrate all those kisses and hugs, the rides to the mall, the doctors’ appointments, the countless soccer-basketball-baseball games, a special note tucked into a pocket or care package sent to camp. But remember, sometimes it’s what a person doesn’t do that matters, and some moms are just bad to the bone.

More than 30% of identity theft cases involve a family member or close friend. The reason is simple: access. Whether it’s your mother, father, foster families, siblings, close friends or your spouse—access often is the only catalyst needed to turn your credit report into a crime scene. Here are a few examples from the Mommy Dearest files.

Betz Noir

Axton Betz-Hamilton discovered she was an identity theft victim when she rented her first apartment and was told that a deposit was required to turn on the electricity because she had bad credit. She thought she had no credit at all. Her credit report said otherwise. Her assumption at the time was that whoever stole her parents’ credit a while back had hit hers, as well. Then the truth came out.

Betz-Hamilton’s mom, Pamela Betz, died in 2013. Shortly after that, Betz-Hamilton says her father discovered a box that contained credit card statements in Axton’s name, so he called to razz her about her profligate spending. He then discovered he also had some crazy spending, and so did his father, who lived with them. They all allegedly were hit by Mama Betz.

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No Cheers for This Mom

Some mothers have a hard time giving their kids space to grow and become their own person. Others can be smothering to the point that children can’t do anything on their own, but Wendy Brown took it to another level when she used her daughter’s identity and showed up for cheerleader tryouts at Ashwaubenon High School in Wisconsin.

With her daughter living in another state with family, Brown, 33, decided it was time to get her high school diploma—and it seems, while she was at it, get another shot at the high school experience. She was caught by truancy officers and sentenced to three years in a psychiatric hospital.

G.I. Jane Deferred

Cassidy McKenna had just graduated from high school and was excited about enlisting in the armed forces. But when she signed up, they wouldn’t take her. While it’s generally known that bad credit can affect a soldier’s security clearance, the Armed Forces also will turn down prospective recruits with unpaid debts that are overdue or in collection, until the issues are resolved.

McKenna said she didn’t know that she had bad credit. She had always lived at home and had no credit cards. The damage was caused by an outstanding electric bill for $1,755 and another $1,123 owed to a cable provider. When she confronted her mother about the bills, she said her mom went AWOL, only turning up at the Kerr County Courthouse, where she was answering McKenna’s theft charges against her.

Apple of Her Eye?

Mom and alleged fraudster Kristina Anh Giusti, 44, of Garden Grove, CA, first attracted the attention of the Chino Hills Police Department after an investigation into $800 in fraudulent credit card charges at local retailers. Investigators say the evidence they collected points to Giusti’s making the charges.

According to CBS Los Angeles, police found “altered credit cards issued in the suspect’s name, six laptops, two tablets, an embossing machine and a tip card machine used for forging credit cards. … Detectives also found a card encoder, several boxes of white stock credit cards, a money counter” and $11,000 in cash. Police allege the woman had two accomplices … one of them her daughter.

‘In the Family Way’ Fraud

Hairdresser Jennifer Perik, from DuPage County outside of Chicago, is expecting both a baby and a criminal trial in the months to come. If the charges stick, she will join the ranks of identity-thief moms.

Perik is accused of making $6,000 in fraudulent charges on a Discover card that belonged to her hair client, a 94-year-old woman. Investigators say that more than half that amount went to a sperm bank with offices in Virginia and Maryland that boasts high-quality donors. At a bond reduction hearing, Assistant State’s Attorney Diane Michalak said that Perik was seven weeks pregnant, but that it was not known if the pregnancy was the result of in vitro fertilization.

We’re always talking about identity theft being the third certainty in life, yet the crime almost always takes victims by surprise—all the more if the perp is Mom. It’s always a good idea to take protective measures to reduce your risk, but even then it’s impossible to entirely prevent the crime from happening. You can, however, reduce the damage from fraud by detecting it as quickly as possible. Check your financial statements—ideally online, every day—for any fraudulent charges, and dispute anything you didn’t authorize. Request your credit reports, which you can get for free once a year, to look for new accounts that you don’t recognize. And your credit scores serve as your snapshot of your credit health—by tracking them over time, you can catch any big, unexpected changes that may be a sign of a big, unexpected problem. You can get your credit scores for free from many sources, including Credit.com.

This Mother’s Day, celebrate the women who have done so much for us—and thank your lucky stars that your mom isn’t a fraudster. Or is she? … Maybe wait until Monday to investigate.

This piece was written by Adam Levin. Levin is chairman and co-founder of Credit.com and Identity Theft 911. His experience as former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs gives him unique insight into consumer privacy, legislation and financial advocacy. He is a nationally recognized expert on identity theft and credit.

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About the Author

Byron Acohido is a business journalist who has been writing about cybersecurity and privacy since 2004, and currently blogs at LastWatchdog.com.

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