Spousal Identity Theft

identity theft on computer

It's common for each spouse to take on different responsibilities in a marriage. Maybe you trusted your spouse with all the financial decisions. During your divorce, however, you discovered that he or she used that trust to hide assets within your family finances, making purchases with your joint credit card, taking money from your bank account, even making large purchases without your knowledge. After months of working with attorneys and possibly an accountant, all assets were finally redistributed and debts paid. So why are you getting unexpected calls from debt collectors years later? You may still be the victim of spousal identity theft.

All your ex needs is your name, date of birth, driver’s license number, and social security number to continue using your identity long after your divorce is final. With this information, he or she can create new identities, apply for credit cards, and create cell phone accounts. With the stolen Social Security and driver’s license numbers, your ex can open bank accounts and apply for loans in your name. He or she can even use the information when applying for jobs, which providing access to your social security benefits.

So how do you know if your ex is still using your identity? Watch for sudden drops in your credit score. Check each bank statement closely for unfamiliar transactions. Make sure your bank will notify you if someone tries to transfer money from your account. However, if your applications for credit are being rejected and debt collectors do start contacting you, chances are your ex is still using your identity. If you find yourself in this situation, take these steps:

  • Set up a credit freeze – A credit freeze prevents creditors from accessing your credit report, so they can't approve new credit in your name. You must contact all three major bureaus-Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion-to initiate it and the freeze lasts indefinitely or until you lift it.
  • Alert your creditors – Contact your bank, credit card companies, or any other affected party immediately. Ask for the fraud department and explain your situation.
  • Clear off your outstanding balance – If your ex has committed a crime in your name, it's almost impossible for government authorities or creditors to forgive any debt. However, the Fair Debt Collection Practice Act says debt collectors have to stop collection of any debt until they can verify the details of that debt by mail from the original creditors. You must inform the collector within 30 days of receiving the initial notice of the debt for this provision to start. When contacting the collection agency, request this 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 - date of opening, transaction details, debt amounts, and identification used to open the accounts
  • Report fraud to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – This report will help make it easier to prove you were a victim of identity theft. It will also make it easier for banks and creditors to close down every fraudulent account in your name. If necessary, they can work with you to create a personal recovery plan in order to help you get through this ordeal. For assistance, contact IdentityTheft.gov.
  • File a police report – If you know that your ex is using your identification, you must file a police report. Some banks won't accept your claim of identity theft without a police report. More importantly, if your ex has used your identity in the commitment of a crime, your name may be on record with law enforcement. If you don't report the theft, you could be seen as a participant in the crime. When you file the report, take your FTC Identity Theft Report, government issued photo ID's, proof of address, and any specific evidence of spousal identity theft.

It's sad to say that an ex-spouse would steal the identity of an ex-spouse, but it does happen and you need to be proactive to protect yourself.