Same Name Confusion and Mistaken Identity

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I was recently asked an intriguing question:  “My name is Nancy Edwards “Doe.” (The last names are replaced for privacy reasons.)  My ex-husband dated and recently married a woman named Nancy “Edwards” and now goes by Nancy E. “Doe.”  My ex and I had a contentious custody battle where he regularly said he would take the children and disappear. I have primary physical custody.  He told me that he has obtained the children’s birth certificates and social security cards.  There is nothing on the birth certificates that distinguish between me and his new wife.  What can I do to prevent them from taking the children?”

I guess the guy really liked women named Nancy Edwards.

This is not a common situation, but there are certainly things she can do to protect herself. 

Obviously, it would be fraud if they were to try to pretend the new wife is the mother and she were to sign as the mother.  If caught, this could lead to both criminal and civil (financial and custody) problems for them.

Fortunately for most people where only the first and last names are similar, birth certificates have full middle names, making confusion less likely. But in this instance, the new wife has the same middle name as well, so it would make the mistaken identity more likely.  While there's not a lot someone can do to prevent their attempts, there are some things a person can do proactively to reduce the likelihood of abduction or serious misconduct.

For example, if the biological mother is concerned that the ex-husband and new wife might obtain a passport for the children without the biological mother’s knowledge or consent and flee the country, mom can flag her children's names with the Federal Government so they will be contacted before a passport is issued. (For more, visit https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/prevention/passport-issuance-alert-program.html.)  Mom can also ask the credit reporting agencies to put a note on her file - or even freeze her credit - to make sure the new wife cannot sign for a new credit card or incur other debt in mom’s name.  And were dad and wife to use mom’s personal information or bank/credit accounts for their use, that would be fraud she could report to her bank or credit card company, who take these sorts of things fairly seriously.

Beyond that, most reporting agencies and sophisticated creditors can distinguish between people with the same name using other information they have. Social security numbers are unique to the person, so creditors can quickly tell the difference between the people.  And all three agencies provide credit monitoring programs that alert the subscriber of any credit activity on their account, which allows the subscriber to respond quickly.  It’s a hassle, but there are many out there who face this all the time.  There are a lot of Steven Smiths out there, not all of them good.

So while mom will likely face some risk for at least the rest of her children's minority status, there are things she can do today to protect herself. And as her children get older and more world-wise, the risk of nefarious action goes down as the children will likely tell their about them.