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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I want to respond to "Discredited," whose parent stole his (or her) identity and opened credit card accounts using that false identity.

I investigate credit card fraud for one of the largest banks in the world. For parents to commit identity theft against their children is an increasing trend.

"Discredited" needs to contact the credit card companies as soon as possible and report the fraud. And "Discredited" should NOT pay on those cards, since that is often interpreted as acceptance of responsibility. Because she did not authorize the cards, they will most likely be removed from her credit report after completing some paperwork. She should also, as you advised, file a police report since many companies require one when reporting fraud.

If "Discredited" does not take action NOW, his/her credit will be affected for the rest of her life. As a preventive measure, the three major credit reporting agencies should be alerted and a fraud alert placed, which will require lenders to contact "Discredited" at a specified phone number before extending credit.

Please don't use my name. Sign me ... FRAUD INVESTIGATOR IN TENNESSEE

DEAR INVESTIGATOR: Thank you for your supportive and helpful letter.

Readers, if the mail I have received about this problem is any indication, ID theft and fraud have become so common that all of us should run a credit check on ourselves once a year to make sure we haven't been "cloned." It can be done by contacting the three credit bureaus: Experian: 888-397-3742; Equifax: 800-685-1111; and Transunion: 800-916-8800. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: "Discredited" wrote about one of her parents using her credit information. This is called family identity theft, and it is a far too common, yet frequently hidden occurrence that is not often discussed.

You rightly advised "Discredited" not to continue to be victimized or feel ashamed, and urged the writer to contact the police. However, given the cultural issues raised by this individual (who is Asian), your advice may have been oversimplified. In our experience at the Identity Theft Resource Center, many family ID theft victims could benefit from talking to an adviser about potential consequences to themselves and the thief before making such a difficult decision.

We work regularly with cases such as these, as well as those in which ID theft is used as a form of domestic violence. Our program is nonprofit, and victims are never charged for our time. -- LINDA FOLEY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ITRC

DEAR LINDA: Batten down the hatches, because you're going to be inundated. Readers, the Web site is

And now, some additional information: In cases like this, it is also a good idea to contact the Social Security Administration and request a statement of your earnings to make certain your relative isn't working using your information. And, depending on your age, it may be necessary to contact the Internal Revenue Service to ensure that no personal tax bills are due (or overdue) under your personal identifying information.

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