Cover image for The less people know about us : a mystery of betrayal, family secrets, and stolen identity
Title:
The less people know about us : a mystery of betrayal, family secrets, and stolen identity
ISBN:
9781538730287
Edition:
First edition.
Physical Description:
viii, 306 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Summary:
In this powerful true crime memoir, an award-winning identity theft expert tells the shocking story of the duplicity and betrayal that inspired her career and nearly destroyed her family. Axton Betz-Hamilton grew up in small-town Indiana in the early '90s. When she was 11 years old, her parents both had their identities stolen. Their credit ratings were ruined, and they were constantly fighting over money. This was before the age of the Internet, when identity theft became more commonplace, so authorities and banks were clueless and reluctant to help Axton's parents. Axton's family changed all of their personal information and moved to different addresses, but the identity thief followed them wherever they went. Convinced that the thief had to be someone they knew, Axton and her parents completely cut off the outside world, isolating themselves from friends and family. Axton learned not to let anyone into the house without explicit permission, and once went as far as chasing a plumber off their property with a knife. As a result, Axton spent her formative years crippled by anxiety, quarantined behind the closed curtains in her childhood home. She began starving herself at a young age in an effort to blend in--her appearance could be nothing short of perfect or she would be scolded by her mother, who had become paranoid and consumed by how others perceived the family. Years later, her parents' marriage still shaken from the theft, Axton discovered that she, too, had fallen prey to the identity thief, but by the time she realized, she was already thousands of dollars in debt and her credit was ruined. The Less People Know About Us is Axton's attempt to untangle an intricate web of lies, and to understand why and how a loved one could have inflicted such pain. Axton will present a candid, shocking, and redemptive story and reveal her courageous effort to grapple with someone close that broke the unwritten rules of love, protection, and family.
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Summary

Summary

AN EDGAR AWARDS 2020 WINNER

In this powerful true crime memoir, an award-winning identity theft expert tells the shocking story of the duplicity and betrayal that inspired her career and nearly destroyed her family.

Axton Betz-Hamilton grew up in small-town Indiana in the early '90s. When she was 11 years old, her parents both had their identities stolen. Their credit ratings were ruined, and they were constantly fighting over money. This was before the age of the Internet, when identity theft became more commonplace, so authorities and banks were clueless and reluctant to help Axton's parents.
Axton's family changed all of their personal information and moved to different addresses, but the identity thief followed them wherever they went. Convinced that the thief had to be someone they knew, Axton and her parents completely cut off the outside world, isolating themselves from friends and family. Axton learned not to let anyone into the house without explicit permission, and once went as far as chasing a plumber off their property with a knife.

As a result, Axton spent her formative years crippled by anxiety, quarantined behind the closed curtains in her childhood home. She began starving herself at a young age in an effort to blend in--her appearance could be nothing short of perfect or she would be scolded by her mother, who had become paranoid and consumed by how others perceived the family.
Years later, her parents' marriage still shaken from the theft, Axton discovered that she, too, had fallen prey to the identity thief, but by the time she realized, she was already thousands of dollars in debt and her credit was ruined.
The Less People Know About Us is Axton's attempt to untangle an intricate web of lies, and to understand why and how a loved one could have inflicted such pain. Axton will present a candid, shocking, and redemptive story and reveal her courageous effort to grapple with someone close that broke the unwritten rules of love, protection, and family.


Author Notes

Axton Betz-Hamilton is an expert in identity theft, having personal experience that she's now turned into a career. After discovering her own mother had stolen hers and her father's identities for years, Axton made understanding the nuances of identity theft her life's work. She frequently speaks on the topic at a wide range of conferences and has won multiple awards for her research, teaching, and service.
Axton has a Master's degree in Consumer Sciences and Retailing and a PhD in Human Development and Family Studies, focusing on child identity theft and elder financial exploitation perpetrated by family members. She teaches at South Dakota State University.


Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

This shocking debut charts how Betz-Hamilton's family suffered after falling victim to identity thieves. When Betz-Hamilton was 12 in the early 1990s, her parents stopped receiving their mail, including their bills. The author's often depressed mother, who was in charge of household finances, concluded that some vindictive person was out to get the family. The author watched as troubles piled on: her parents had their utilities turned off and received a foreclosure notice, her mother was accused of passing bad checks at a store she supposedly never went to, her father learned he had property he never knew existed. "Closed curtains became a hard-and-fast rule in our house," writes the author, who became paranoid and wary of strangers. When Betz-Hamilton went to college, she learned via a credit report that she'd had her identity stolen, too, at age 11. This discovery, which Betz-Hamilton relays with the tension of a thriller, compelled her to focus her studies on identity theft. It is only after her mother's death that a cache of incriminating documents is discovered on the family property. Betz-Hamilton then begins an investigation into her mother's past, a process that leads to jaw-dropping revelations. Astonishing and disturbing, this emotionally resonant book is perfect for true crime fans. (Oct.)


Kirkus Review

Memoir of a life under the shadow of identity theft.Betz-Hamilton (Consumer Sciences/South Dakota State Univ.) grew up in the age before the internet, a time when it took considerable effort to assume another person's identity and exercise financial fraud under those auspices. For a time, her mother was given to buying cheap, "pointless" jewelry from TV shopping channels, hiding the fact from her father, but she was seemingly normal compared to others in the family. Since the identity thief seemed to follow them wherever they traveled, moving often to stay a step ahead of creditors, taking pains to hide their whereabouts, it became evident that someone within the family was the author of the plot. Was it the grandmother who "had long ago stopped taking her insulin"? Grandma's boyfriend, who made a career of sitting on the porch? Some other relative? The payoff, a financial version of the movie Halloween, is surprising indeed, and it opens onto a world of mental illness on the part of adults and a life of bewildered, anxious isolation on the part of a child who bore no blame in the matter. As the author writes, "recalling the phoneless house of my teenage years, I began to realize how especially damning it had been to lose that connection to the outside world." Betz-Hamilton has since become a specialist on identity theft, and her notes on such matters as how debt is traded back and forth between credit card companies and collection agencies are revealing. Still, though the book is fairly short, it seems padded, and the writing is too often clunky: "There have been a few moments in my life when reality has skipped in front of me like a broken television"; "Grief waited like horses locked in a starting gate." Given that identity theft and fraud are both commonplace and comparatively easy to fix these days, readers might find the memoir dated as well.Though with an unexpected payoff, this is a tale in need of streamlining. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Booklist Review

In this honest and engaging true-crime memoir, Betz-Hamilton revisits her small-town Indiana childhood and college years, and the identity fraud that rocked her family. Before it's an often-discussed crime, Betz-Hamilton's mother attributes the unpaid bills, fraudulent checks, and unknown property in her husband's name to stolen identity. Convinced that the perpetrator is someone close to them, the family of three learns not to trust anyone and becomes relatively isolated in the face of authorities' inability and unwillingness to help. The author is so affected by these events, especially after learning that a credit card was opened in her name when she was just 11, that she later studies consumer sciences with a focus on identity theft. It is only while going through her mother's belongings after her untimely death that Betz-Hamilton begins to unravel the truth. This memoir has all the suspense and twists of a thriller; even as readers begin to suspect the truth, it still shocks. This bloodless true-crime tale is highly recommended for fans of books about con artists and family secrets.--Kathy Sexton Copyright 2010 Booklist


Library Journal Review

Debut author Betz-Hamilton expertly blends true crime and memoir in this tale of family, lies, and identity. As an 11-year-old, her world is turned upside down when her identity, as well as her parents' identities, is stolen. In a time before computers, police were baffled by the case, and unable to offer the support and services the family needed to recuperate. The author's formative years were spent traveling from place to place, trying unsuccessfully to outrun the ubiquitous identity theft. As a result of their trauma, Betz-Hamilton's parents isolated and insulated the family from outsiders, causing the young woman to develop severe anxiety and other mental health issues. As an adult, with a poor credit score owing to faulty lines of credit extended from her childhood, Betz-Hamilton grapples with the fallout of lives consumed by the crime and its lasting effects. Her ability to untangle the intricacies surrounding this case highlights a brave, candid examination of her painful past. VERDICT A poignant and fascinating exploration of identity theft. This book will appeal to those with an interest in family-centered memoirs and crime.--Mattie Cook, Flat River Community Lib., MI