Editorial Policy

When to turn in a friend for identity theft

Erica Sandberg

July 27, 2015

QHi Erica,

My friend is addicted to Adderall, among several other prescribed medications. I was too, but now I'm clean. She stole peoples' credit cards and created false accounts — all to feed her addiction. I think she is still doing this. Can I be in trouble if I know about it? —“Bob”

ADear “Bob,”

Your friend is committing identity theft. She needs to be stopped, and you are just the man to do it. Please contact your local police department immediately, using the non-emergency number. Ask to speak to an officer or detective, explain what is going on and providing all the details you can muster.

To understand if your worries are warranted, I consulted with Peter DiDomenica, a former Massachusetts state police officer who specialized in credit card fraud. “In general, it is not a crime merely to be aware of another's involvement in a crime,” says DiDomenica. However, he explains, if you know the victims personally or in any way are connected with them and don't notify law enforcement, you might be in trouble.Ask Erica

Continued or future association is problematic, too, as you could be pulled into criminal involvement. For example, if you're aware that your friend is a fugitive or wanted by the authorities and you aid or support her, you will be breaking the law. The same is true if you destroy or conceal evidence, or lie to or mislead the police when questioned.

Also to consider, of course, is how this person may react to being reported. If the police contact her and she discovers that you were the rat, she could become angry and vindictive. From my perspective, her friendship would be no great loss, but if you want to shield yourself from harm (even if she' not dangerous, some of her other pals may be), convey your fears to the officer or detective. It is possible that you can remain anonymous.

The other reasons to take such swift and strong action are:

  1. It's the honorable thing to do. Clearly you know what she is doing is not right, which makes saying and doing nothing wrong. It's time to feel good about your decisions. As the French proverb goes, “There is no pillow so soft as a clear conscience.”
  2. You could help your friend. It's possible that this woman will end up behind bars, but not probable. These crimes aren't usually considered high priority. However, a chat with a cop or being arrested may be just what she needs to wake up from her drug-induced coma. The authorities may guide her to the treatment she needs to recover from her addiction, too.
  3. Innocent people will be saved. This is the most important factor — the people she's hurting. Identity theft is not a victimless crime. When someone steals and then charges with your credit card, or opens new cards and loans in your name, the feeling of violation is real and horrible. By putting an end to this woman's actions, even for a little while, you will save people from the emotional pain and recovery time it takes to overcome damage.

In short, you're not doing anyone — yourself included — any favors by letting your so-called friend get away with ID and credit card theft. Staying in contact with her while she's thieving and abusing drugs is also not in your best interest, especially as you're a sober man. As DiDomenica says, “Relationships with untreated substance abusers brings nothing but grief and pain.” Unless she's connected to you by blood or is on a positive path, break the bonds.

Got a question for Erica? Send her an email.