May 20, 2018
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My mother, the identity thief

Emily Yoffe
By Emily Yoffe, Slate

Dear Prudence,

I recently reviewed my credit report and was alarmed to find several high-balance, delinquent credit card accounts I hadn’t opened. I’m certain they were opened by my mother. She has never been financially responsible. When my father died she had to get a job and has always resented it. She spends profligately in order to “feel rich.” When I was growing up, we often lacked for necessities while she bought new cars and pricey clothes. Because she raised me alone I’ve always felt very protective of her.

She and my stepfather have now fallen on hard times, and at her request I drained my life savings to help pay her mortgage. She claimed she would repay me, but hasn’t. I have barely enough to put gas in my car, but I felt that she would do the same for me.

Now, seeing that she’s been ruining my credit for years, I feel betrayed and furious. I struggled to put myself through school and get where I am today. I love my mother but I need my identity, and money, back. To sue her would ruin her. I don’t even know how to bring the subject up, and I’m sure she would deny everything. How do I call her out and start undoing the damage?

— Disgusted Devoted Daughter

Dear Daughter,

Your mother made a lifetime choice not to deal realistically with her material desires, and now you are supposed to pay for her profligacy. She neglected your basic needs as a child while she indulged herself. Somehow you came out of this with the wherewithal to pay your own way, and even put something aside. Those savings are now gone because of her. It’s harsh to say your mother should start living with the consequences of her mistakes, particularly since they might be criminal. But it’s equally harsh to ruin the financial future of your child.

I talked to Daniel Blinn, a Connecticut consumer-law attorney who has handled cases involving identity theft by family members. He points out you don’t actually know if your mother is the perpetrator and says you’re not legally required to reveal your suspicions to the credit agencies. But he says you must start taking steps to clear your record. You should get your reports from the three major credit reporting bureaus (order them free at, then notify them in writing that your file contains fraudulent credit card accounts. He says it would also be a good idea if you inform the creditors you did not request their cards. (And since you’ve never received a statement, it’s probably no mystery where the bills are going.) Doing all the appropriate paperwork may be enough to clear your report.

But if not, you need an attorney — look for one on the website of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. Blinn says whether your mother is identified as the culprit, if that’s what she is, depends on how aggressively the creditors investigate this. He generally recommends fraud victims file a police report, but doing so could help point the finger at your mother, and whether to take that step is your choice. I will add that for your own sanity and security, completely cut her off financially. You say you believe that she would bail you out if you fell on hard times. But she wouldn’t, because your hard times are here, and she caused them.

— Prudie

Dear Prudence,

I am a 25-year-old woman working in a male-dominated office. I act professionally and get along with my co-workers. Recently, I’ve been getting invitations to spend time alone outside work with some older male co-workers, some of whom are married with children. Activities range from going to the movies to teaching me how to shoot a rifle. While I enjoy office chats with these men, I don’t feel comfortable spending time outside work with them. On the other hand, I could be misreading friendly invitations to hang out with someone who could be a professional mentor. What should I do? And how do I decline an invitation without making them feel bad, or accept and keep the professional lines clear?

— Unintentionally Popular

Dear Popular,

I bet they want to take you shooting — it sounds as if they’ve got an informal contest going to see who can bag you first. And won’t it be so cozy on the range when one of your colleagues gets behind you and puts his arms around you to show you how to fire his weapon.

When women first started entering corporate jobs there was a lot of hand-wringing about how they were being excluded from the kind of unofficial networking that takes place at the weekly golf game. Though you hear less these days about golf as the way to the C-suite, it would be fine if your colleagues were inviting you to join a group of them for a round on a Sunday morning. But you’re being invited to private sporting events. Also fine would be if after a discussion of action movies a male co-worker said, “My wife Jennifer and I are seeing ‘The Bourne Mishegoss’ on Friday and you’re welcome to join us.” But you’re being asked to sit in a darkened theater next to a solo colleague.

I agree with your instinct that these offers have nothing to do with your professional advancement, so turn these guys down. You don’t have to worry about hurting their feelings; just be polite but firm: “Thanks but riflery is not my thing” or “I’m sorry, I already have plans” and repeat ad infinitum.

— Prudie

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