What Do You Do When a Family Member Steals from You

When a family member steals for you, the first step is to talk to the person and let them explain calmly. Present evidence, a document, or a credible witness to support your allegation. Then, ask the person to return the money or asset. If the person refuses to return the money or asset, the following steps depend on the amount stolen.

Author: Brad Nakase, Attorney

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Example: When a Family Member Steals from You

Kathleen runs a business from the comfort of her home, creating and selling custom jewelry through her own store on Etsy. It can be difficult to work from home sometimes, because Kathleen lives with her two children, sixteen-year-old Marcus and five-year-old Aurelia. One day, when life is particularly hectic, Kathleen rushes to take Aurelia to school, leaving Marcus home alone. However, Kathleen has forgotten to close the safe where she stores her most expensive gems and cash. A few days later, she discovers that some diamonds are missing, in addition to $1000 in cash. Knowing Marcus to have been the only one home that day, Kathleen realizes that her son has stolen from her. She is devastated. What should a business owner do when a family member steals from them? She wants to have a good relationship with her son, but she does not want him to think that it is okay to steal from her.

How To Deal with a Family Member Who Steals

It is never a pleasant experience to realize that someone is stealing from one’s company, and it can be even worse when the thief is discovered to be a family member or relative. If someone in a business owner’s family has stolen from his or her company, the problem should not be ignored but confronted directly. The business owner should approach the thief about their stealing, even if it is an awkward or hostile interaction. After talking to the family member about the issue, the business owner should take steps to protect the business and ensure that the individual does not continue to steal from the company. Then, the business owner may proceed with repairing his or her emotional relationship with the family member.

Talking to the Family Member

It is important that the business owner plan his or her side of the conversation before confronting the family member. By confronting them too early, before one has planned a response, one is leading with their emotions. It therefore will be impossible to handle the situation calmly and rationally. A business owner should give him or herself time to calm down and consider the proper approach.

One good strategy is to write a letter to the family member, but without the intention of giving it to them. After writing the letter, one should store it overnight and look at it again in the morning to revise it. This method will help a business owner sort out his or her feelings and figure out what to say.

Inform the Family Member How Much Hurt They Caused

It is necessary that the family member understand the amount of hurt and damage they caused, so that they comprehend the severity of their actions. The business owner should inform them of how disappointed they are, as well as how they feel betrayed.

It is important that the business owner remain calm and not raise their voice or let their emotions lead. Perhaps he or she should say something along the lines of, “I am disappointed that you took the money from the cash register. I never would have thought you’d do something like that.” This conversation may be uncomfortable to have, but it is vital. If the family member does not feel regret for what they have done, then they may try to steal from the business again in the future.

Do Not Let the Family Member Make Excuses

It is possible the family member will try to excuse their misconduct by saying things like, “I was only borrowing the money,” or “I was going to ask you, but I forgot.” It is important that the business owner not believe them or let them off easily. Even if the excuses are true, they still stole by taking money without permission. The family member should know that what they did was wrong.

Make Plans for Reparation

The business owner should encourage the family member to come up with a plan for repairing the relationship. If they took an item, then they should return or replace it with their own money. If they stole money, then they should pay it back. If necessary, offer a payment plan.

Have Consequences

The business owner should let the family member know there will be consequences if they do not offer amends or change their behavior. Even if the family member refuses to cooperate, they should not be allowed to get away with the theft. The consequences should vary according to the nature of the theft.

Some consequences may include not allowing the individual in one’s house any longer, ending one’s relationship with them, or contacting the police.

Bring in Another Adult

If the thieving family member is young or the dependent of another family member, then the older family member may need to be involved in the conversation. It may even be a good idea to talk to the parent of the minor prior to talking to the young adult themselves. This may offer some understanding of what is going on behind the scenes, perhaps explaining the reason for the theft. Also, the parent may wish to discipline the youth in their own way.

A business owner may wish to say, “Tommy stole some money from the cash register. I caught him doing it. I know he’s your son, so I wanted to talk to you about it before taking any action.”

Think About What Caused the Family Member to Steal

There are many reasons why people steal. Perhaps they feel as though they have been deprived, or they are trying to support a habit or pay off debts. Young adults may steal as a way or getting attention or expressing anger or frustration. While understanding an individual’s reason for stealing does not excuse their wrongful behavior, it gives a business owner a sense of how to prevent the same from happening again.

Help a Family Member Get Treatment, If Needed

Addiction is a common reason behind theft, because addicted individuals are desperate for a way to fund their unhealthy habit. If a family member was always honest and trustworthy before now, then it could be that they are suffering from an addiction and are acting out of character by stealing. A business owner should express his or her concern for their wellbeing and help them find a local addiction treatment program.

If a family member is addicted to drugs or alcohol, it is important to treat them kindly and with encouragement. Instead of expressing disappointment, show concern and care. If they suspect the business owner is judging them, they may not want to accept help.

Look for Counseling

It is understandable that a business owner would feel violated and suspicious after a family member has stolen from them. Therefore, it may be a good idea to speak with a therapist in order to work through difficult emotions, as well as to regain trust in other people.

End the Relationship if Necessary

If the family member continues to steal from the business, then there may be no choice but to end the relationship with them. Though cutting ties with family is not ideal, it will be the best decision in the long run. It would be more painful to have the family member keep stealing over and over again.

Expect to Have Trust Issues Afterward

After a family member breaks a business owner’s trust, it can be hard to accept. It can also be especially difficult trusting them afterward, no matter what they say. If the theft is a first-time offense, or if it was perpetrated by a minor, then a firm discussion may be all it takes to ensure that the theft does not happen again in the future.

Depending on the business owner’s relationship with the individual, it may be possible to rebuild the relationship and damaged trust down the road. For now, however, it will be necessary to keep a close eye on them while they are involved with the business. It may be necessary to keep some distance from the individual while processing what happened, and while giving them time to make amends.

Protect Accounts and Valuables

It is important that a business owner protects his or her money as well as any valuables in the event the family member tries to steal a second time. One should lock their bedroom door, get a home safe, and not leave money or items lying around the house or shared workspace. If the family member stole from an online account, then the business owner should change passwords and his or her checking account number.

Consider Going to the Authorities

If the family member has committed a serious crime, such as stealing a business owner’s identity, then the owner should file a police report in order to scrub fraudulent activity from his or her credit report. It may be difficult to report a family member to the police, but bad credit can harm an individual or business for years. Therefore, it is important to protect oneself from the consequences of their crime.

If the business owner feels guilty about reporting the family member to the police, he or she would do well to remember that the family member did not feel guilty about stealing the owner’s identity or ruining their credit. Their crime should not be the owner’s burden to bear.

If the perpetrator is a minor, then it may not be best to involve the authorities. Rather, it would be better to talk to the individual about right and wrong.

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