Dear Margo: All in the Family

What to do when fraud and identity theft become a family matter? Margo Howard’s advice

All in the Family

Dear Margo: How do you deal with a family member who has done something morally and legally wrong? My brother “borrowed” all of my parents’ retirement money and signed a promissory note to pay it back. He has no intention of paying it back. My parents have next to nothing to live on, yet refuse to take him to court. Additionally, he has stolen my father’s and his own sons’ identities, opening credit cards and taking out loans in their names. When they found out, they all refused to prosecute him because his “life would be ruined.”

He is in a relationship with a woman who has no idea any of this occurred and cannot understand why his relationship with his family is so uncomfortable. It is becoming increasingly difficult for me to have a relationship with my brother because of his actions. I also think his significant other who lives with him should know the truth so she can make an informed decision about the relationship. What do you think? — Devotee of Dave Ramsey and the 10 Commandments

Dear Dev: The people in your family who have been ripped off sound daft. They are worried about this criminal because his life “might be ruined”? What about their lives? To take it out of their hands, I would go to the local district attorney with the information you have, giving all the victims in the family a clear conscience. Your brother cannot be allowed to continue. And I don’t think there’s any need to cue in his significant other. I suspect the authorities will do that. — Margo, rationally

Of Facebook, Tags and Romance

Dear Margo: My boyfriend and I, both in our 20s, are not friends on Facebook. We used to be until I caught him untagging photos he did not want me to see. I thought not being friends was the best way not to “stalk” him. Well, a few days ago, we were hanging out, and he logged into Facebook. I glanced at his laptop and saw a picture of him and his ex-girlfriend. When I asked if I could look, he responded, “You’ve already seen my photos.” I told him I wanted to see him with his ex, and he told me it was an old photo. Then I saw it was in one of her albums labeled “Spring/Summer 2011.” He contended it was an old picture that must have been put there by mistake.

I looked through the album and determined by the dates that the other photos had been posted recently. He later admitted the picture was recent, and he didn’t tell me because he thought I’d get mad. The fact that he was hiding something from me is upsetting, and the fact that this picture is out there for others to see makes me feel disrespected and embarrassed. I asked him to untag the picture, but he refuses. Am I wrong to ask him to remove it? Are there rules of etiquette for dealing with an ex online? — Trying To Be a Good Girlfriend

Dear Try: You will forgive me — I have basically no idea what you’re talking about. I do not know from tagging and untagging pictures, but you do sound like a very good Facebook detective. What I think I understand is that you “unfriended” your boyfriend, which in the world of older people sounds somewhat odd. I also think an older generation would not have photographic evidence of the reunion, even if platonic. While I understand your feelings of jealousy, I am also thinking that your bf may feel a little hemmed in.

As for “rules of etiquette for dealing with an ex online,” I think that area is new enough so that each couple can make their own. If you think he has stepped out of bounds, he has. — Margo, situationally

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via e-mail to Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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84 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Jody says:

    LW#2: If it walks like a duck, and sounds like a duck…

    Come on! You can’t be friends in facebook with the guy you are supposed to be in a relationship with? NO WAY! I’m sorry, but the boyfriend has one foot in and one foot out. If he wants to continue being your boyfriend, I suggest full disclosure. Otherwise, help him Hokey Pokey his other foot out as well. You don’t need that. All it’s doing is helping bury your self-esteem. There are plenty of fish out there, Girl!

    Don’t make someone a priority, when they see you as an option.

    • avatar LCMom says:

      LW2 – What’s wrong with this picture? (no pun intended)… You have a boyfriend who you are not connected with on FB because of inherent issues in your past experience with him and FB… and you’re noticing NOW that he’s in RECENT photos with another woman and LYING about it. Why exactly did you write Margo? There is no etiquette for dealing with exes, if that’s REALLY your reason. To each his (or her) own agreement… as long as they stick to the agreement… which your boyfriend is obviously not doing. I think you’re about as daft as the LW1’s parents who’s identities are being stolen. Get a clue girlfriend, he’s just not that into you.

  2. avatar Jody says:

    LW#1: Call me a sucker. Call me overly compassionate. But, there is a part of me that can’t help but wonder what it must be like living as the brother. His self-esteem must be non-existent. He must believe this is the best he can be… all he can be… all he can ever hope for. How sad is that? To live your life believing you are nothing and must steal from those who love you in order to survive. Daunting.

    Don’t mistake my above statement for feeling sorry for him. Because I know that Karma is a bitch… and her wrath will catch up to him. When it does, I hope it’s not from some creep he borrowed too much money from that decides to take it out in blood. Roads like the one he’s on lead down such paths. It is his lesson. His decision. It’s unfortunate, but if your family is so toxic that they cannot hold him accountable for transgressions against them, then that apple didn’t fall far from the tree. I believe enabling is a form of abuse, mostly to the extent your letter suggests.

    May your family find peace.

    • avatar blue tooth says:

      If her brother were as you described, that would indeed be sad. More likely, though, is that this brother is stealing from his family because he can. Either he is narcissistic and feels entitled to all their money and resources, or he has an addiction of some sort, either drugs or gambling or porn, you can take your pick. In that case it’s not a self-esteem issue or a values issue. It’s just an issue for law enforcement. Who knows, this may be just the jolt this person needs to hit bottom and realize what he needs to do to get his life back on track.

      • avatar Katharine Gray says:

        Oh, I think the brother has plenty of self-esteem.   So much that he expects his entire family to forgive and forget all of his lies, betrayals  and crimes  L and pay for his world…whether it is a lavish lifestyle, stupid investments, or what is more likely a drug or gambling problem (as blue tooth pointed out).  While I am not defending the enabling by the parents and this man’s sons, I would not call their behavior *toxic*.  Enabling someone like him is stupid but I don’t think it is abuse because the brother seems to be doing just fine and dandy living high on the hog of his family.  What is happening is that the brother is toxic and his parents and sons don’t want to face that fact.   Low self-esteem my ass!  He’s been given so much by so many that he thinks it is his by right and I would bet my paltry 401K that he doesn’t feel put down by them or inferior to them but that he thinks they are patsies and suckers for letting him get away with it.

        Jody, I’m not going to call you a sucker or overly compassionate because you have NO problem blaming the victims in this scenario.  I just wonder why you identify so strongly with the brother who has lied, cheated, and defrauded his family.   

        • avatar Michelles11 says:

          Katharine Gray…couldn’t have said it better.  The brother is somewhat of a sociopath….

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            Please…not “sociopath”. That term is barely used anymore in the psychiatric field, and over-used ad nauseum on the boards. He may have a narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder (both are Axis II mental disorders that are virtually untreatable and would be nice fits for him…if he does have a mental illness)…or just be a selfish, egocentric sufferer of a cranial-rectal inversion. Not everyone who is manipulative, self-centered, and seemingly lacking in conscience or guilt is necessarily able to be diagnosed with a mental illness…and sociopathy is symptomatic of Axis II mental disorders.

            I’ve known some people who could pass every psychiatric test known to mankind (those who are sociopathic cannot, despite what is written in books or shown in movies) and are worse then the LW’s charming brother. Just as not everyone who takes it into his head to go on a shooting spree is schizophrenic or bi-polar. Yowza.

          • avatar Sweet Dream says:

            My head is spinning reading all your technical terms. I think I’ll take “sociopath”, simple and to the point.

          • avatar Davina Wolf says:

            What do you mean the term “sociopath” is hardly used any more?  The term is everywhere, as are sociopaths, who make up 4% of the population. 

          • avatar luna midden says:

            I left a reply, further up, and used SOCIOPATH… because I have a family member OR HAD… have not had contact in years with this person… THANKFULLY. And this person was a Sociopath, nothing else, straight down to every mental health description. No, this brother sounds like one too. Granted, we have only one story, a very short story and yes, we can be wrong.

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            In the actual psychiatric community, “sociopath” is not used because there are for more accurate diagnoses for what “ails” certain individuals who display the traits that far too many people…because of fiction, including TV, movies and books…are convinced indicate sociopathy.

            But, for your edification, the following:

            “Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) is described by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, fourth edition (DSM-IV-TR), as an Axis II personality disorder characterized by “…a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood.”

            The World Health Organization’s International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems’, tenth edition (ICD-10), defines a conceptually similar disorder to antisocial personality disorder called (F60.2) Dissocial personality disorder.

            Psychopathy and sociopathy are terms related to ASPD. ASPD replaced sociopathy as a diagnosis in the DSM but the terms are not identical. Currently, neither psychopathy nor sociopathy are valid diagnoses described in the DSM-IV-TR[3] or the ICD-10.”

            This information, in case readers are overwhelmed, is from the World Health Organization…and The American Psychiatric Association. Your information is from a book called “The Sociopath Next Door” by Martha Stout, who has a ph.d., and is not a psychiatrist or a member of the psychiatric community. Lay people love the book. Researchers, clinical psychologists, and psychiatrists seem to unilaterally dismiss it. I’ve read it, and to me it is a work intended to create fear, suspicion and, of course, money for the author. It certainly has done a wonderful job of fear-mongering. A whole four percent of the population…the medical community estimates that no more than 1% of the population of this country are afflicted with ASPD, or similar Axis II personality disorders.

            But, stay ignorant, and keep your eyes open for those frightening backyard sociopaths. They’re everywhere. I adore lay diagnoses, especially since I have a son with narcissistic personality disorder. I know what I’m talking about, because I’ve done the research…and not by reading sensationalistic crap. A vast percentage of the misery done by one human being to others is committed by garden variety anuses who have no diagnosable mental disorders at all. Just your regular, next-door-neighbor ass-hat.

          • avatar yeahright says:

            why don’t we just call him a crook?

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            yeahright; which was precisely my point…why give the bastard a chance to use the excuse of a faux “mental illness” to gain sympathy (see a certain set of comments) in court?

            That wretched book “Sociopath Next Door” has those addicted to reality shows and Oprah seeing “sociopaths” behind every bush, and diagnosing every crook and walking anal orifice as deadly personality disorder manifested in flesh.

            Forest for the trees people…

        • avatar Briana Baran says:

          Katharine: I was going to reply to Jody…but you absolutely nailed it. Excellent response.

          As to why the victims might be receiving the blame…a lot of addicts, recovered or otherwise, tend toward that behavior. So do those who were, or still are, enabling an addict who never has recovered.

          I am NOT making any accusations, nor am I, a dry alcoholic and clean addict, that sort of person. But I’ve seen it more times than I can remember. One might phrase it as sympathy for the devil.

        • avatar Jody says:

          Perception is EVERYTHING! Especially when it comes to the written word. I am in NO WAY blaming “victims” in my post. Simply because I don’t believe there are any victims here. It is a slippery slope to believe you are a victim. This means you had/have no control over what has happened to you, how to change the circumstances, or how to rectify the situation. Her family had/has control over what is happening, yet they choose not to do anything about it. Hence, no victims here.

          I’m sticking to my guns on the low self-esteem. A person who feels good about themselves in an healthy way would not stoop to such levels. He is clearly missing something of himself. Take it literally… he is stealing other people’s identities. His own identity is not enough. My training tells me that says it all.

          Enabling someone to continue a behavior that will kill them or harm them is most definitely toxic in my opinion. This is a familial issue… not just the brother’s. Everyone involved in this mess has something they’ve contributed to it in order for it to get to the point which it is at. I am simply saying here that, although the brother’s behavior is disgusting at best, he is not some evil-doer over his “victims”. Unless and until everyone involved takes accountability for their part in this, whether you are the one who takes advantage of people, or whether you are the one enabling the manipulator, it will not be resolved. He may serve jail time for his transgressions, but if the family doesn’t get therapy for their part, they are still in the same behaviors that contributed to the problem. Such as when a drug abuser goes to rehab, but the family members don’t receive therapy. Often times, the addict will go right back in to old habits because the environment which enabled the habit hasn’t changed.

          Maybe my perception comes from YEARS of living with a drug abuser. My brother stole from me. I asked my parents to put a lock on my bedroom door, but they would not. I hid my things, money, jewelry, even shoes as best I could, only to have them discovered and stolen from my brother. I even had make-up missing from my room. My parents enabled him to continue his behavior for YEARS, just as the LW’s have. Eventually I began keeping things at a friend’s house. I took responsibility for my own stuff, and stopped him from stealing from me. I see no victims here. What I see is toxicity. What I see is dysfunction. I see an entire family that needs counseling.

          It always takes two parties. It’s never just the one who is sick. EVERYONE plays a part. That is my point. Whether we agree or disagree is of no concern to me. I am only hopeful that the family seeks help and does not fracture from this.

          • avatar Frau Quink says:

            Ltr. 1: The guy is a criminal. This family seems very fractured to me…… It can’t get any worse……

          • avatar blue tooth says:

            Sorry Jody but I have to disagree with you here. There are very many people who don’t have self-esteem issues who believe, “I want what you have so I should get it.” Whether or not it belongs to you is secondary. I’ve heard them justify their actions by saying, “I can make better use of it than you can,” or “I need it more than you do,” or “you don’t really use that stuff anyway.” But these are only justifications they use when they get challenged or caught. If they’re not caught, they don’t even think about it. They feel fine about it. It doesn’t bother them at all. In their minds, the other people are suckers and deserve what they get. They see it as, people are takers, or they get took, and they’re fine being the takers. It’s that simple.

            Sometimes, addiction drives that behavior, like your brother. Sometimes it’s lack of empathy. Sometimes it’s just their worldview. And these people can come from poverty or wealth, broken homes or loving ones, be the oldest child or the youngest, or the only child. It doesn’t matter. It just happens.

            About being the victim, there’s no doubt his parents and his son are the victims of his actions, just like you were the victim of your brother’s actions. You fought back and adjusted and went above and beyond to protect yourself from your brother’s stealing, and that was resourceful of you and showed your strength and determination, and you refused to allow yourself to continue to be victimized by him. That doesn’t change the fact that he did you wrong. That you should’ve been protected. That your parents let you down. So yes, in your case your parents victimized you, by enabling your brother. Their behavior was toxic toward you. You deserved better, and what your parents did shouldn’t be minimized or excused.

            This situation is not exactly the same as yours. His parents might be enabling him, but he is still the one responsible for his actions. If there is blame to go around, it’s not split 50-50. It’s more perhaps 90/10. And in the case of his son, for all we know his son may still be a minor, and what child finds it easy (whether grown or not) to press charges against his parent?

            So, no, it doesn’t take two parties to do harm. It only takes one person who’s willing to harm the other.

          • avatar Jody says:

            Thank you for your perspective, blue tooth. I appreciate it, and consider it.

            I like to jump ahead sometimes, and get past the victimization thoughts that people come to me with in coaching. It is important for me to be compassionate towards what people are going through during these sessions. But, in the end, I know it is most important for me to show them how they are NOT victimized, so they can take back their power. This is what I help people do on a daily basis… help them get their power back by processing them through their experiences. Awareness is key to that, as well as not seeing oneself as a victim.

            I come from a place where I believe we all tell ourselves a story. It is the story of who we are, where we come from, what we have, etc. Strip away all of those things and what do you have left? The family has told themselves a story about the brother. His life will be messed up if they make him accountable and hold him responsible for his actions. Is this story true? Maybe. I don’t know. But, what I DO know, is their resistance to create a NEW story is keeping them stuck in the muck.

            I was young and initially I felt victimized by my brother’s behavior. Until (literally) one day I stepped back and saw how my family reacted this way towards him all of the time. The realization hit me like a brick wall and I was nauseated by it all. I had an epiphany, took my power back, and learned from it. If I can do it… so can anyone. For, I know I am not special nor inherently unique! So, I have found my life’s purpose, been through school/training/etc. for over 11 years now to develop the skills, etc. needed to help other’s do the same. It pays the bills. But, more than that… it is my calling. I like coming in here, it helps me learn more so I can be more helpful to others. I often see perspectives that others haven’t thought of. And, I only hope to lend a thread of hope, new perspective, or challenge old belief patterns by commenting in here from time to time. Who do I have to thank for that? My drug addicted brother! lol. Oh, the irony!

            Thank you again. I am in gratitude for your words and honor them.


          • avatar amw says:

            I fully agree that the LW’s family are not victims. However I don’t believe that the brother must have low self-esteem. He just doesn’t care. I have a family member that takes advantage because she’s allowed to. Not much I can do by way of helping my family…but I can certainly distance myself and not be one of those enabling her behavior.

    • avatar martina says:

      I have a brother like this guy.  Mine bought my father’s bakery which was very well known, made a good income and bankrupted it AND blamed my father.  He didn’t pay the employees’ withdrawal taxes to the government so that when the bakery finally closed these people had a heck of a lot of trouble collecting unemployment.  The government went after my brother for the taxes and, because my father opened the bakery again trying to salvage his retirement, they thought my father was fronting for my brother and tried to pull him into the criminal charges.  My brother never bothered to clear that up and Dad had to hire a lawyer.  My brother never once apologized. 
      He then got his girlfriend pregnant the same time he got his wife pregnant and had a fit that his wife got pregnant.  Probably because he told the girlfriend that he wasn’t getting any at home.  My father had nothing to do with him after that.  My mother kept in contact because of the grandchildren – there were 5 not including the one from the girlfriend.  I avoided him.  He has no sense of guilt or of what is right or wrong.  I tell my parents that he is mentally ill and it’s not their fault.  When his ex found out she finally started divorce proceedings.  He said that he wanted full custody of the kids and if he couldn’t get it he wasn’t going to see them at all.  He didn’t see them once for over 8 months.

      He has bounced around from girlfriend to girlfriend.  He’s a real charmer and moves in with them until they find out what he’s really like and then they kick him out.  His ex started drinking and it got so bad (she blames that on my brother) we sent her back home to Germany for her parents to deal with and so he had the two youngest boys.  He got kicked out of a girlfriend’s house had nowhere to go and showed up on my parents’ doorstep.  Because of the kids, they took him in.  It was suppose to be temporary until he could get back on his feet and lasted three years.  The first 1 1/2 years were OK and he gave them money towards household expenses. Then my mother had a stroke.  Once that happened, the money stopped coming.  Because of the kids, it took my father another 1 1/2 years to finally kick him out.  He did nothing to help out around the house even after Mom came home paralyzed and brain damaged from the stroke.

      Recently, my father’s health became so bad that we had to put Mom into a home and my brother calls every so often to see how they are doing.   He said that Mom could have stayed home if he was still living there and it was Dad’s fault that that didn’t work out.

      I have met a couple of my brother’s girlfriends and the last one seemed so nice and decent that I just wanted to tell her to run far and fast.  But he would just tell his girlfriend that I was nuts and there are the kids to consider.  We have a good relationship with the boys – they a really good kids and I still wonder how they managed to turn out that way with the parents they had – and I don’t want to jeopardize that.
      Is it right for you to go to the authorities to notifying them of what he is doing?  Because he is stealing IDs, yes.  His life isn’t going to be ruined – they always manage to find a way to survive.
      These people have no sense of reality.  Life is about them and what they need and they will do whatever they need to get it.  They have no conscience and a minimal sense of right and wrong but if they do wrong it can be justified.  Yes, it must be sad to be this way but I don’t think that there is anything they can do about it because they won’t go into therapy because they don’t have the problem everyone else does.  What they do to people because they are what they are is even sadder.

    • avatar luna midden says:

      Okay, NONE OF US know the family or this lovely brother personally, BUT, having been in a similiar situation….. he sounds more like a sociopath… no sense of wrong towards his family and the pain he is putting them through. Or the time, effort and possible $$$$ to straighten out THEIR CREDIT REPORTS. (especially HIS SONS!).  Someone who desperately needs money and resorts to this should at least feel SORRY FOR SCREWING UP HIS RELATIVES… Sorry his parents are living just on S.S.I. But, according to his sis, and unless she is lying, he has happily going about life. Sociopath, because they can convince others they have need, they are sorry, etc. but actually don’t give a D***.  Going to the DA? Hummm…. might make sis on the outs with the family, but if he opens accounts on Dad’s and his kids names, who says he has not done it with others? And if he hasn’t, when he is squashed for money, it will become tempting, and GF and HER FAMILY will be the next target… MONEY FOR NOTHING??? HE DID IT MORE THEN ONCE AND DID NOT GET IN TROUBLE ..( what happened to the credit cards that were opened under the others names?) MUCH TOO TEMPTING, HE WILL DO IT AGAIN, AND LIVE IN GF AND HER FAMILY WILL BE THE EASIEST TARGETS. or SIS.

    • avatar Carib Island Girl says:

      Give me a break Jody, the guy STOLE his parents retirement fund and the identities of family members to STEAL MORE and RUIN THEIR CREDIT!!! The guy needs to be in jail, end of story.

  3. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    LW#1:  Going to the authorities is not a bad idea but do not be surprised if your parents/family members who were the victims of the crime refuse to cooperate with the prosecution or claim that *he had my permission to use my credit cards* etc. making the case nearly impossible to successfully prosecute. 

    I suppose you have had numerous conversations with your parents and your nephews urging them not to put up with this behavior and sue or prosecute and they just won’t do it.   They are daft, misguided, enablers, you name it.  It would be hard for me to deal with them because I have no patience for people who let themselves be victimized.  As for dealing with your brother, frankly, I would not deal with him at all and make every effort to avoid being in  the same room with him.  As for his girlfriend, if she questions you about the distance or tension in the family, tell her the truth.  If not…she will figure it out either when the authorities come calling or when he steals her credit cards/ identities or those of her own family, borrows lots of money from her and doesn’t pay it back etc. 

    What a frustrating mess for you.  But keep in mind that YOU are not the victim…and those that are choose to be.  I hope you are not put in the position of having to help your parents out financially because of this mess…and if you are I think I would make it a condition of giving them money that they sue your brother on the note or prosecute.  Of course, by the time this happens, it may be too late for them to do either.  And I doubt your brother has money to satisfy the civil judgment against him anyway. 

    Letter #2:  Ah…this is why I hate Facebook.  But your problem really isn’t the tagging/untagging/online etiquette with exes.  You boyfriend is not really as into you are you are into him.  If he is  hanging around with exes and lying to you about it, its time to recognize that he is not as involved as you are in this relationship.  Seriously consider moving on. 

  4. avatar Deeliteful says:

    Oh Margo,

    Your response to LW#2 is priceless! “You will forgive me — I have basically no idea what you’re talking about.” I consider myself pretty computer savvy, but not “social Network” savvy. And since the latest upgrade (yeah, right) Facebook has implemented, I’m even more frustrated. But I digress. Social skills such as talking (not texting or posting on FB) seem to be disappearing for the youth of today. It was difficult enough back in the good old days when couples actually talked to each other about problems and actually sorted most of them without input from all of their “friends”.

    LW #2 – what Jody says in her first sentence applies however you discover the evidence.

    • avatar Brooke Schubert says:

      I totally agree with you on LW#2.  I seriously do not understand why anyone would want a facebook account.  You realize that there is no such thing as privacy if something is on the internet, right, no matter what your settings?  You wouldn’t believe how many fraudsters and liars we’ve nailed in court due to their “private” facebook posts.  When we’re deposing them, we have them log in to facebook as themselves and we go through it on record.  Facebook is simply a way for adults to put Junior High-type drama back in their lives, and I’ve no interest in one of their silly accounts.

      LW#1-I agree with Margo’s advice.  If he isn’t stopped, you and your own credit might be next.