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Help! My brother stole my identity!

September 18, 2012: 6:30 AM ET

I recently checked my credit report and found that my brother had taken out a credit card in my name. Now I have an $11,000 debt. Should I report my brother for identity theft, or should I just report the identity theft without mentioning my brother's name? Do I have any options besides reporting my brother and pressing charges? I am afraid that the credit card company will not believe me, and I will have to fight a long time to get this off of my credit report. I should mention he has been arrested a few times for financial reasons. – N.M.

As much as you might want to avoid going after your brother, ultimately you may have no choice but to report him if you want to successfully dispute the charges. "Credit card companies are not going to take you seriously unless you have a police report," says Nikki Junker, social media manager and victim adviser at the San Diego-based Identity Theft Resource Center. And if you do file a report, it's generally standard procedure for the police to ask if you know who committed the crime. Junker warns that staying mum can not only jeopardize your chances of clearing your record, but could also lead to charges for falsifying a police report.

If your brother admits responsibility for the identity theft and signs a letter promising to pay off the bill in full, some credit card companies may consider working out a repayment plan. But Junker notes that they're under no obligation to do so. And if your brother fails to fully repay what he owes them, they may pursue you for the remaining balance. This option also won't necessarily keep the police from getting involved.

Start by placing an identity fraud alert on your credit reports with the three major credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Next, fill out a Federal Trade Commission fraud affidavit (available at www.ftc.gov) and contact the companies that show charges in your name to let them know you've been a victim of identity theft. If all goes well, those companies will issue letters of clearance which you can send to the credit rating agencies to clear your record of fraudulent activity.

— Marc Mewshaw

Got a question for the Help Desk? Send it to helpdesk@cnnmoney.com.

Posted in: Credit, Family Money
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