Identity theft: What to do when the fraudster is actually someone you know

Kara Gammell
Finances expert
minute read
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Posted 18 February 2022

If you discovered that you had been a victim of identity theft, chances are, you’d contact your bank right away. The good news is that your bank should refund any money stolen as soon as possible - ideally by the end of the next working day. 

But did you know that if the fraudster was actually someone with whom you had a personal relationship, the same rules do not apply? 

It may sound hard to believe, but because this type of coerced banking debt is considered financial or economic abuse rather than fraud, victims are not offered the same protection. 

In other words, you’re only protected by your bank if the person stealing your money is a stranger. 

As a result, victim-survivors of this type of financial abuse are left with long-lasting harm to their credit reports as well as debts which take many years to pay off. 

Can you spot the signs? 

In your relationship, who has control over the money? Are the bills in your name or theirs? 

Maybe they're the only one who can log in to online banking? Or make you count every penny you spend? 

Have they stopped you from earning money or going to work? Spent their money how they wanted, while your money was used for essentials? 

This is all considered economic abuse and, according to the charity, Surviving Economic Abuse, one in six adults in the UK have experienced it at some point. 

Financial abuse rarely happens on its own and 85% of victims say it’s accompanied by other types, including physical, sexual and emotional abuse. 

It can leave the victim with no money for basic essentials such as food and clothing, without access to their own bank accounts, with no access to any independent income and with debts that have been built up by abusive partners in their names. 

And even when a survivor has left the home, financial control can still be exerted by the abuser with regard to child maintenance. 

Twenty million people have experienced economic abuse in a current or former relationship 

Who does it affect? 

Economic abuse is bigger problem than you might think: 20 million people have experienced economic abuse in a current or former relationship, according to research from the Co-operative Bank and Refuge. 

Financial abuse can take many forms so will look different within different relationships – and according to Refuge, few of us (16%) recognise that this is, in fact, abuse. 

Typically, a partner is often the one carrying out the abuse, but it can also come from other relationships – for example, family members, friends and carers. 

If the abuser has access to your personal details, this can make it easier for him or her to open up accounts in your name or access current accounts. 

Financial abuse can happen to anyone – but according to research by Refuge, major life events and changes such as getting married, buying a property or having a child are often when economic abuse begins. 

These events typically involve the joining together of finances, or one person becoming more financially dependent on the other, which perpetrators take advantage of to control and abuse. 

The pandemic hasn’t helped either. New data from Refuge shows that 1.6 million victims claim the abuse they experienced started during the Covid-19 crisis and the lockdown. 

You will usually be responsible for any debts that are in your name as there is no general exception for people who have experienced economic abuse 

Is there help available? 

It can be very difficult to get coerced debt recognised by the courts and/or creditors (the people you owe money to) because they often assume that couples are a financial unit. 

You will usually be responsible for any debts that are in your name, as there is no general exception for people who have experienced economic abuse and have been coerced into debt. 

However, the charity, Surviving Economic Abuse, points out that there are a number of debt solutions that you may wish to discuss with a qualified debt adviser and/or a legal adviser. 

These include: 

• pursuing a criminal prosecution 

• challenging the liability of the debt 

• asking for a debt write-off

• debt management solutions 

• insolvency 

The right option for you will depend entirely on your circumstances, and it is important to seek debt advice before taking any action. 

What you can do now? 

Whether it’s for you, or someone you know, there’s lots of help and information available. 

If you or your children are in immediate danger, call the police on 999 or if you can’t talk, call 999 followed by 55 to indicate you need help, but can’t talk. 

If you want to discuss your options, contact the 24-hour Freephone National Domestic Abuse Helpline (run by Refuge) on 0808 2000 247. Women’s Aid (0808 2000 247 in England, 0808 80 10 800 in Wales, 0808 802 1414 in Northern Ireland, and 0800 027 1234 in Scotland), Men’s Advice Line (0808 801 0327) and the National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline (0800 999 5428). 

If you are confident to do so, explain that you are a victim of domestic abuse. 

This will help them take your safety into account and discuss appropriate options with you. 

A domestic abuse worker may be able to support you to speak to specialist services. 

The government has also introduced a formal debt respite scheme called Breathing Space. 

The government has also introduced a formal debt respite scheme called Breathing Space. 

It is designed to give you time to receive debt advice and decide on a solution that’s right for you. 

The scheme stops creditors taking action to chase debts for a period of 60 days. 

There are two types of scheme – standard breathing space and mental health crisis breathing space, for people who are receiving mental health crisis treatment. 

The scheme prevents possession action being taken on your home, fees and charges cannot be added to your debts during this period, and new-found debts can be added. 

Debts covered by the scheme include council tax arrears, rent/mortgage arrears, energy arrears, credit cards, store cards and personal loans. 

The scheme does not stop creditor action on debts that are not included in the scheme, or on arrears accrued after the breathing space starts. 

You will need to apply for Breathing Space through a qualified debt adviser. 

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Don’t forget that while you may think that this article is brilliant, it is intended for information purposes only and should not be mistaken for financial advice or recommendations.