How do I stop my aunt from using my name on/in forms?
January 2, 2012 9:01 AM   Subscribe

My troublemaker aunt is using my name to fill out forms. She has a long history of alcoholism and possibly some mental problems, and I have no way of contacting her other than Facebook (I think). How do I get her to stop? Is this illegal in any way?

I'm in my late 20s and have been living independently from my parents for about 7 years. I live in Philadelphia. Since I moved from my parent's house, they have also moved to a new house where I have never lived, nor have I ever used their new address as my own or for any forms. I have also changed my last name due to getting married last year.

However, I have been receiving mail at my parent's new house as "Liz Maidenname". Not only would I never use my informal name (always Elizabeth), it's always very spammy mail, like a recent postcard from "Fly A U.S. Airways" saying that I won an 8-day cruise plus airfare. *eyeroll* I do not get that kind of mail at my current/correct address, so I don't believe it's anything I'm doing AT ALL.

After a while of getting weirdo mail like this (my mom gets it, too), my mom searched Spokeo for our names, and to our surprise, it appears that both my mom and I live with my aunt. In New Jersey.

So it's become clear that she's using our information for various forms. I don't know why she's doing this, but I really would like her to stop, because I imagine that this behavior will escalate and potentially cause me problems. My aunt is a very troubled person. She is an alcoholic who has had various run-ins with the law and is not at all financially responsible. Her daughter is also a heroin addict who has also had run-ins with the law and has even served time in prison. Long story short, my family has distanced ourselves from her and her immediate family after a long time trying to (unsuccessfully) help her. I'm reeling thinking about worst case scenarios, and I just want to protect myself from her troubles.

What can I do? Is this illegal? I don't know where she's been using my information, but it's pretty clear that she is. What's the best way to tell a potentially unstable person that they are going way, way over the line? Is a quick Facebook message really appropriate, or should I track down a phone number? I know I should be checking my credit and all that (which I'm doing), but really just want this behavior to stop. Would letting her know that I know she's doing it make her stop? Help!
posted by two lights above the sea to Human Relations (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: It's definitely worth mentioning that I'm not actually friends with her on Facebook. Thanks!
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:03 AM on January 2, 2012

Spokeo is not proof that your aunt is doing this. My name shows up related to various addresses, some of relatives, some for reasons I can't comprehend, and I'm certain those people are not doing something intentional to cause this to happen.
posted by tomswift at 9:06 AM on January 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

Have you checked your credit report for loans taken out in your name?
posted by pharm at 9:07 AM on January 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

It might not be her. I recently got a direct mail piece from my own company, addressed to my married name which I only used for a few years and haven't used since the mid-90s, and I'm living in a state that neither I nor my ex ever lived in before. Mailing lists come from all kinds of sources, including hopelessly incorrect ones, and there may not be any shady dealing going on.
posted by headnsouth at 9:08 AM on January 2, 2012

Response by poster: I have entries attached to my previous/current addresses under my formal (long name). The only address attached to my short, informal (old) name is my aunt's house in New Jersey. I have an unusual name and so I don't have any other results for any other variation of my name.

Thanks for the responses so far!
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:26 AM on January 2, 2012

It's probably not technically illegal, but it's shady as hell. Freeze your credit and get your mom to do the same. If you have any lawyer pals, get them to send her a crease and desist letter.

She's probably filling out contest forms, etc., using your names so as to get more chances.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:45 AM on January 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

I agree with Ideefixe: i sounds like she's using your name to enter sweepstakes. Why don't you contact her through Facebook with a link to the Spokeo results and say, "Do you know anything about this? It looks like identity theft, and unless you have another explanation, I'm getting authorities involved."
posted by roger ackroyd at 9:57 AM on January 2, 2012 [13 favorites]

It may be terrifically impossible to prove she is doing this? Nthing to just keep getting your credit reports checked (stagger your free annual requests by four months for each of the big three).
posted by desuetude at 10:31 AM on January 2, 2012

Whenever a family member is appropriating your identity, changing the answers to all your security questions on your accounts is a good idea. They know your mother's maiden name, the city you were born in, etc. Change all those answers so that knowing the correct answer doesn't help them. You can simply add a prefix to your supplied answers, like "theCorrectAnswerIs_mother's maiden name" or some other such thing.
posted by ifandonlyif at 10:42 AM on January 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

IANYL. Certain forms of identity theft are a federal crime and punishable by serious prison terms. You might want to check out 18 USC 1028 or 1028A. Obviously, I have no idea whether any of these apply to your case.
posted by Nx at 10:43 AM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

It only takes once, and it doesn't have to be malicious. All it takes is one "give us the name of 5 friends and you can receive your 72-piece Food Storage System for FREE!" response card or online form. She might have used her own address to keep y'all from knowing she did it, and then the information is sold on and enters the Direct Mail stream of endless spam. I still get mail that I know was from a magazine subscription in the 90s because my name is typoed in a very distinctive way, and it has followed me through various addresses.

Obviously you should protect yourself in all the ways that are appropriate if you think you might be at risk of of identity theft, but the actual cause may very well be benign but irritating.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:30 PM on January 2, 2012 [8 favorites]

Of course it is illegal, but here's some perspective………

My family gets mail for me all the time at places I have never lived at. My parents get letters with my name on it at their current address even though I have not lived with them for decades. In fact, they have moved three times since I lived with them and they even get stuff for me at their new address after 3 moves to 2 different states. I did stay with my sister a few years ago, so there was a short time where she received some stuff, but it eventually stopped.

My idiot brother probably gets stuff too, but I could care less because, well, he is an idiot. Just deserts for all the crap he gave me growing up...but that is another story.

Anyway, to the point of your question, over the several years, I have noticed that my address history has begun to show up online more often in all sorts of areas, dating back my entire life. Along with that info, certain members of my family are shown as being associated. Even though we live in different places, I am linked with their address.

The only thing that made sense is that in the databases that keep all that info, it gets cross referenced as more data is added each year. Addresses get matched with last names, algorithms change the data a bit to make it look more appealing to the recipient with the intent of getting you to open the mail and look at the advert. 10 years ago, this was not as much an issue, but with legions of companies back tagging data all over the place, yours and your Aunt's info may have been somehow linked. Armed with that link, the robo-seller computers are reaching out to you.

Sure, it is possible she is doing this intentionally. However, as a person who has been accused by the aforementioned idiot brother of trying to rob him of his suburban utopia, threatening his helicopter parent lifestyle, harming his family, attempting identity theft of his cat, kicking his dog, causing his car to run out of gas, ordering pizzas to his house in another state, making his 2% milk curdle prematurely, doing hang up calls for years and who knows what else, for some of the same reasons you attributed to your Aunt, I can attest that this may not be the case at all and quite possibly the product of technology run amok. Without doing a thing, there it was – weird mailings with my name on it going to addresses that I have never been to. Sure, at one time I didn’t act properly and did some stupid things, but those days are long past. If I had a nickel for all the crap I am continually accused of doing and subsequent threats of legal retaliation because a letter showed up with my name on it, I wouldn’t have to work at all.

FWIW, I have not had any contact with him for over a decade in any form whatsoever. Yet each year, I get another round of accusations about something that I am supposedly responsible for because someone got a letter with my name on it *again* that I never sent, never signed up for or had anything else to do with. I just went through this last week, so I guess I am good for a few months, but the shit never stops. It is just numbing and given all the horrible things that people accuse me of doing, I have zero motivation to do anything about it. Clearly, I will never be vindicated, so why bother?

So there you have it…coming from the other side.

Regarding the Spokeo issue, it is true that people have abused the site to gain access and make purchases. I spoke with a person last month who was scammed this way. In that case, the scammer somehow talked Spokeo into getting information that they used to make purchases via PayPal. In the end, charges were reversed and while the scammer got away with a purchase theft, it was revealed they did use Spokeo to get the necessary information to fool PayPal. So it can happen.

The upshot of all this is, yes, sure, she might be pulling a fast one, drunk emailing, attempting fraud and all sorts of crazy stuff. However, in our credit, background, criminal and employment check obsessed world, less than scrupulous merchants have also found ways to exploit the information glut too. And when they do that, they make it look like what you are expecting might happen with your Aunt.

If you really want to be sure all this stuff stops, start with the credit monitoring and such, but realize that when you do that, it is possible that the info you are trying to protect may also get out there again and you will be right back where you started. It is like a bad virus you can’t shake.

I am really am sorry for your troubles. I know it sucks, but your Aunt may not be the only culprit here.
posted by lampshade at 1:02 PM on January 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

It sounds like she's doing this at random. If so, she's doing the same to other family members, in addition to your mother. Get in touch around the family and find a way to agree to talk to your aunt to tell her, gently and as family, that she can't do this any more.

It would be complicated (and expensive) to have a conservator appointed for her, though she's plainly getting to the point where she might need one. You may have to have a family member go over to her and go through the day's mail with her.

You seem to be getting mostly scam advertising. While it's annoying, you can recognize it pretty easily, and just throw it in the trash, which is I think the solution, at least for the time being.

Good luck.
posted by KRS at 2:21 PM on January 2, 2012

I agree with pharm, get a credit report checked out. She might be filling out spam adverts on the Internet now, but it might escalate into something else!
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 12:12 AM on January 3, 2012

Here is a link to the FTC's (Federal Trade Commission) list of places where you can opt out of telemarketing, credit card offers, and direct mail advertising.

You could try opting out the name your aunt is using to sign you up for various marketing mail.
posted by brookeb at 2:15 AM on January 3, 2012

I'm seconding that this is not proof that anyone is using your name to complete forms. I think websites like spokeo are trying to match up disparate pieces of data from public databases into something that is cohesive... but often wrong.

I have a pretty unusual name, and am divorced but had an extremely uncommon name when married. When I look up my name in spokeo, pipl, and zabasearch, I find that I'm still living where I was 25 years ago, that my ex-husband's subsequent wife is living with me and using my maiden name for her last name, that I use a nickname that I have never used, that I was married to my ex-husband's father.... I assure you that none of that is remotely true! It seems that names (especially for women who have last names that change) really trip them up.

Junk mail people are using mailing lists that come from the same sources, with the same problems. I get mail addressed to my deceased mother at my current address (my mother died years before I bought my house), I get mail addressed to me with my former married name (I was divorced years before I bought my house), and so on. Nobody is maliciously using my name or my mom's name. It's just listed incorrectly from these sources that are trying to figure out current info based on bits from here and there.

Take pleasure in the fact that they haven't yet figured out how to create a full and accurate profile of you based on the info they've gleaned and stored. Someday this might not be true.
posted by Houstonian at 7:37 AM on January 3, 2012

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