How can I help my brother?
September 17, 2013 1:37 PM   Subscribe

A few years ago I posted here to ask for help after having my identity stolen by my mother. It turns out that this has now happened to my younger brother as well, but he isn't being smart about it. How can I help him?

This community was so helpful and supportive three years ago that, being at a loss for what to do, I have decided to humbly ask for your advice once more. Rather than rehash all of the details here, it is easiest to link to the previous thread.

Quick update: The accounts were removed from my credit history. I contacted my brother about what happened and told him to check his credit report, which he claimed was clean. I got married and elected not to invite them. My husband and I are very happy together. I cut off contact with my parents completely for two years, but in early 2012 my experience caring for my mother in law as she passed away from cancer led me to rethink my decision. I have had an email and phone only relationship with my parents since May 2013 that is solidly mediocre. They never accepted responsibility for their actions.

Now to the present problem...

I've kept up with my brother (just recently 24) as much as possible in these last few years which was difficult because, against my advice, he was still living with my parents until about two months ago. He did/does not have consistent access to a phone, so we mostly talk through social media. He had a year long period where he was a sort of vagabond with some friends, probably because he felt lost. He finally got a job and it took him a long time to save up and leave my parent's house since they were guilting him into giving them money and staying with them. He does not have a driver's license, as I didn't until I moved away. They always claimed it was because they didn't have the money for the training or insurance, but I suspect they were using transportation to control us. He doesn't yet have a job in his new city. In a nutshell, his life isn't very stable right now but he's doing his best and living with a few good friends.

On Saturday my husband and I attended a wedding near the town that my brother now lives in. We made time to visit him on our way home. I hadn't actually seen him in years. He seems okay but worn out. During our conversation he admitted that my parents had stolen his identity too! Cue internal rage. He never told me and lied about it because he's always tried to be the 'peacemaker' of the family, and my mother told him that I would be angry at her if I knew. Um, YES. Angry doesn't really cover it. My saving grace in my mother's house was always my natural defiance and independence. My brother has always been more susceptible to her abuse and emotional manipulation.

As it stands, in addition to his defaulted students loans, he has several thousand dollars of credit card debt that my parents fraudulently racked up in his name. He doesn't even know exact numbers. They claimed that they needed it "for food", which is what they told me. I don't know how long the identity theft has been going on, but he already has collections agencies after him. It seems like he is trying to run away from the problem and is smoking a lot of pot to cope.

He refuses to report the fraud to the police. He is loyal to my parents and worried about what would happen to my mother's health if she went to jail (she has multiple legitimate health concerns). I've tried to explain that this could ruin his life, if not his credit, if he does nothing. I told him that he needs to at least file a report and see what can be done, even if he doesn't want to press charges. He won't do it.

What can I do to help him? Can I file a report on his behalf? Would pressing charges on my own past identity theft help him, assuming the statute of limitations hasn't passed? I know you are not my/his lawyers and obviously I'm going to investigate on my own, but general legal advice would be great if you have some. What would you do if you were a young man with a lot of debt, no job, few skills, and no transportation?

On the personal side, I just started talking to my parents again... I don't want to talk to them anymore as a result of this, but I know that if I cut off contact again all of a sudden my brother will be the one to suffer her wrath. I care about my brother and my relationship with him. Part of me wants to use a relationship with me (which they really want for some reason) to force my parents into dealing with this, telling them that I'll never talk to them again unless it gets resolved, but I know that isn't the right way to go about it and likely won't work anyway. Ugh, how could they do this to him? They didn't learn from it the first time? I'm really at a loss here. I don't know what to do. My husband and I are doing well but we still have plenty of student loans to pay off. Also, I feel that paying off the debt my parents incurred would send the wrong message to everyone involved and make me feel bitter.

This is already longer than I thought it would be, but here's some extra insanity for you: About a year ago my mother inherited some property from an ex-husband, which she promptly sold. Apparently all of that money is gone, used to buy a mobile home to live in, a car, and a television. Why in the f*** didn't she use some of that money to pay off the cards in my brother's name??? She's also gone totally nuts and claims that my brother and I are going to die in some kind of giant flood in the next few months because we live on the west coast. She's probably just using this delusion to legitimize ruining my brother's credit since hey, he's going to die anyway, right?

UUUUGGGGGHHH. Give any advice you feel like giving. I can't believe I wasn't smart enough to head this off before it happened.
posted by delicate_dahlias to Human Relations (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Why in the f*** didn't she use some of that money to pay off the cards in my brother's name???

The question is not why didn't she do this. The question is why, given everything, you think that this would even occur to her.

I don't say that to be harsh, at all. I say it to suggest that you have got to accept, as a neutral fact, the truth of who your parents are and the kind of abuse they simply produce on a daily basis. Seriously, you don't question gravity, right? It does what it does. This is your mother. She does what she does. Narrativizing it, looking for answers, trying to get your brother to see The Truth of your story -- these are all ways down the rabbit hole or time spent on the hamster wheel (or any other metaphor involving furry animals!), but they are not productive work that will bring you any peace.
posted by scody at 1:47 PM on September 17, 2013 [28 favorites]

Sometimes the best way to help people is to let them fall.

Your brother said he doesn't want to press charges. He hasn't asked you for financial assistance (which, if he does, you are indeed within your rights to refuse - or, at least consider your own solvency when deciding how to help). I would remind him one more time that if he ever needs help repairing his credit report, you can give him tips, and then I would sit on my hands and let him conduct his affairs as he chooses to.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:48 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

The good news is if your brother ignores this, it will go away. After a certain amount of time, it all comes off the credit report.

Now, this is all on him. You warned him, you showed him how to handle it, and he's decided not to deal with it. That's his decision. He is a grown man, and he can decide to make bad decisions. People do it every day.

Right now, these folks are symbiotically leaching off of each other. Back away slowing from the crazy and keep everyone at arms length. If you do go see them, keep your purse tucked under your arm.

You already know what you're dealing with.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:52 PM on September 17, 2013

I can't believe I wasn't smart enough to head this off before it happened.

How could you have done this? Your brother didn't want you to know that his identity had been stolen, and he lied to you. Do you wish that you had not believed him, and kept questioning him over and over? That just sounds like a recipe for alienating your brother.

I know this is a big deal and you feel involved, but try to look at this as a problem that you warned your brother about and he did not want to take heed. It's not your fault. Help him if you can and if he wants it, but other than that, you've done what you can.
posted by coupdefoudre at 1:52 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

None of this is your fault or your problem. I agree with you 100% that your brother should take proactive care of this situation and not ratify the fraud by inaction. I agree with you that he's making some decisions that he is likely going to regret down the road. I think he should talk to a lawyer, and the longer he waits, the worse it's likely to be for him.

But you know first-hand how hard it is for a person to come out from under an abusive relationship. Better than anyone else, you know what your brother must be facing -- except it sounds like he's facing it worse because he hasn't made the clean break that you have.

I think the only thing you can do is to be clear and direct with your brother, and then -- this is the hard part -- honestly support him in whatever ways you can without violating your own conscience. If his decision is to let this identity theft go, I think you have to be careful not to undermine him and invalidate his decision. You can say you think it's the wrong one, but it's still his decision to make.

You can model healthy adult relationships this way, rather than feeling like it somehow reflects on you that two other adults are doing something you don't approve of. That's invalidating his agency and his decision to be a part of this. It's the wrong decision, but it's his. He will be the one who has to live with the consequences. Not you.

That's really hard to do, and I don't envy you it.
posted by gauche at 1:53 PM on September 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think the only thing you can do is strengthen your brother. I'm not sure how much strengthening you can do, but some positivity in his life could help him.

Have him visit you, talk to him, show him the good parts of life, so that his life isn't just one long sad guilt trip.

You may be tempted to try to show him how good his life _could be_ if only he stood up to your parents; let that be implied, don't bring it up in discussion. He's got a lot of weight on him, and anything that could lighten that can help.
posted by amtho at 1:57 PM on September 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Really, the most effective and productive thing you can do right now is be a good sibling and be as emotionally supportive as you can. It's his problem to deal or not deal with. It's the hardest thing to do, but it's the only way that you can maintain relationships with your brother and your parents. Trying to force them to deal with this will just be a lonely exercise in frustration.
posted by sm1tten at 2:47 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your parents are manipulative criminals. Stay out of harm's way.
posted by oceanjesse at 2:51 PM on September 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Your mom/parents have a problem. (Well, many problems, but.) She is manipulative/abusive/uncaring/cheating/willing to hurt and use her children/and yes, a criminal. Why? Who knows. She may not. She may know and not care. But her damage and shitty behavior is not your fault. You can protect yourself. That's about it.

Don't give your brother a fish, teach him to fish. Throwing money at his debts will do nothing. Paying for driving school may. Paying (and/or finding) for a therapist and a lawyer may. If he is willing to do this, you can consider helping. Don't take food from your family for it, but you can consider it. HOWEVER, the IF he is willing to do this is key. You can't change people.

I agree that offering your brother some hope/effective paths to a valuable future might be the best you can do for him. However, you are NOT responsible for him or his happiness.

In a very real way, both your parents and your brother have addictions. Don't enable them in any way; don't be surprised if they never change. Addictions are INCREDIBLY HARD to fix on your own. Maybe impossible. Addicts will do anything to feed their addiction. So don't give them money (brother/parents) and don't be surprised if they never get real help.
posted by Jacen at 3:06 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can't believe I wasn't smart enough to head this off before it happened.

It's not about being smart enough. Your way of coping with your parents' controlling, manipulative, and selfish behavior was/is to be defiant and independent. Your brother doesn't cope that way. He'd prefer the emotional and financial burdens of continued contact with his parents over the emotional burdens of confronting them or cutting ties.

I think the way to help your brother is to set a firm boundary about your parents ("Steve, I'm choosing not to be in touch with Mom and Dad. I'm going to respect your choice to have a relationship with them, and I'd like you to respect my choice as well. I know this may be difficult for both of us."), be clear about what you're willing to offer him (whether that's emotional, financial, or other forms of support), and let him know that if he changes his mind about any of this stuff you'll be a nonjudgmental source of support (i.e., no "I told you so").

I know this is really frustrating. I'm not trying to gloss over that. But you can't control your brother (and if you could, it would still be wrong to do so). You can model healthy options for him. You can be a source of support. That's about it for now.
posted by Meg_Murry at 3:15 PM on September 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

Has he at least done the minimum of closing those credit accounts and filing fraud alerts? If he doesn't want to file a police report, at least encourage him to stop the damage now and prevent future abuses.
posted by megancita at 4:29 PM on September 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

i am really sorry this has happened to both you and your brother. your parents have treated you both horribly in many ways. unfortunately, i do think you have to give up any notions of them changing or learning their lessons. this is sadly who they are right now.

you and your brother sound really different with you being the competent and accomplished one and him being more passive and laid back. so, his ways of wanting to deal with this are going to be different from yours. allow him the space to deal with this as he sees fit. please don't badger him about handling this as you think it should be handled. you've said he's only just moved out of their house 2 months ago so he is fresh out of their house. rather than telling him what to do i'd offer help if he wants it. you could offer to help him clean up his credit as you did your own. maybe offer to set a time to get together with him and walk him through who to call and sit with him as he makes those calls if he has questions or just needs some support. let him use your phone since his not having one is a real hindrance to him dealing with this.

as for cutting off contact with your parents, yet worrying about how that will impact your brother, i think it is fine for you to cut off contact. your brother may receive some short term wrath from your mom but then wake up and make the changes he needs to make in his relationship with them. staying in a relationship with your mom to rescue your brother isn't healthy for any of you as you are all adults. sadly, things do have to get worse before they get better sometimes. really, you just can't control what anyone else does so try to check yourself if you feel the impulse to take charge and take over to fix all this mess. instead, show confidence in and encourage your brother's ability to stand on his own two feet with some help. you want to help empower him but not take over and rescue him so he doesn't feel like he can't do things himself. be patient with him, and yourself, as it may take him more time to disengage from the family dysfunction in the way that is best for him.

again, i'm really sorry your parents have abused you both in the ways they have. i can totally understand your anger toward them. no parent should use their kids like this.
posted by wildflower at 5:53 PM on September 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

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