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The Less People Know About Us: A Mystery of Betrayal, Family Secrets, and Stolen Identity

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An identity theft expert tells the 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 o An identity theft expert tells the 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.


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An identity theft expert tells the 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 o An identity theft expert tells the 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.

30 review for The Less People Know About Us: A Mystery of Betrayal, Family Secrets, and Stolen Identity

  1. 5 out of 5

    Beverly

    This is a truly twisted tale of loss and betrayal in small town, Portland, Indiana. I don't know if I could recommend it to others, because it's so frustrating. This family reacts to trauma by becoming paranoid and self-isolating. Even though identity theft was a new type of crime when the story started, I hate how apathetic everyone seems to be, the family, relatives, the police and friends. Everyone, except for the daughter, who couldn't do anything, except live in fear of whoever was doing th This is a truly twisted tale of loss and betrayal in small town, Portland, Indiana. I don't know if I could recommend it to others, because it's so frustrating. This family reacts to trauma by becoming paranoid and self-isolating. Even though identity theft was a new type of crime when the story started, I hate how apathetic everyone seems to be, the family, relatives, the police and friends. Everyone, except for the daughter, who couldn't do anything, except live in fear of whoever was doing this to their family. She does become an expert on identity theft in later life, so some good came out of it.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader

    A true crime memoir? Sign me up! Axton’s parents’ identities were stolen when she was a young child, and the family was in ruins, not just financially. The rest of her childhood was riddled with anxiety and a changed way of life. Eventually, Axton goes to college and finds out her identity was also stolen, when she was just 11 years old, and a loved one did the stealing. This book was featured on NPR. It is THAT good, and I found Axton’s story gripping and her voice powerful. I received a complim A true crime memoir? Sign me up! Axton’s parents’ identities were stolen when she was a young child, and the family was in ruins, not just financially. The rest of her childhood was riddled with anxiety and a changed way of life. Eventually, Axton goes to college and finds out her identity was also stolen, when she was just 11 years old, and a loved one did the stealing. This book was featured on NPR. It is THAT good, and I found Axton’s story gripping and her voice powerful. I received a complimentary copy from the publisher. Many of my reviews can also be found on instagram: www.instagram.com/tarheelreader

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette

    This is a book which put me into an entire day of self-questioning. Is it 4 star in message? Is it 4 star in language skills? Yes, on both. Was it a fun book to read in any sense of "fun" by definition. Absolutely NOT! It's rather akin to being tasked with observation for a medical condition. Like sitting in one spot to track and describe an ill animal that cannot stop snapping or chasing its tail in endless circles. Or like watching a corner or traffic crisscross by 3 or 4 intersections maze wa This is a book which put me into an entire day of self-questioning. Is it 4 star in message? Is it 4 star in language skills? Yes, on both. Was it a fun book to read in any sense of "fun" by definition. Absolutely NOT! It's rather akin to being tasked with observation for a medical condition. Like sitting in one spot to track and describe an ill animal that cannot stop snapping or chasing its tail in endless circles. Or like watching a corner or traffic crisscross by 3 or 4 intersections maze way where you know a traditional hourly accident occurs. Sitting there to watch the aftermath of the next collusion? Something like that. And most times that would rather intrigue. With this particular 3 sided family and dance of intersect? NOT so much. Anyone who reads my reviews of record for years here knows how I feel about "wire hanger" parent stories. I despise them. Well then why am I not despising this one? Axton clearly expresses her disdain and disaffection just as much. More at times. And her Father? Sorry, I can't deal with this so I think I'll go raise some more donkeys and stay out to do the hay baling? A pure example of total obscuring and escaping to self-blind. What a dance this family did! And don't kid yourself- we ALL suffer financial reversal from this. Not as much as Axton. Never that much. Any more will give you spoilers. I almost DNF about 1/2 way through. Especially when Axton was underminded in her pride of appearance and denigrated in commenting by her parents. Hearing those "getaway" tales for schools etc. got too, too negative for me. But I saw very early in this book that there was a dissociation occurring that was not being noted. Most people who have little psychology background wouldn't be musing DSM 5 criteria. So that's the only thing that kept me going. Because I sure was. And was I correct? Not entirely, but at least I recognized about 1/2 of the iceberg beyond the tip. Not entirely correct in its depth. But I knew that a grave mental illness existed. And gave it the appropriate nomenclature. Yet, I certainly didn't get the duality achieved. The last 3 chapters of the book were 4 plus stars. That she made a career out of this! Kudos to Axton Betz-Hamilton. Talk about making lemonade when all you own is lemons. When I was done, I was very glad I read the book. It's given me tons to ponder in afterward. Like those Moms who appear on "Say Yes to the Dress" and then consistently dis their own daughter and especially her joy and taste. Beware- this is NOT a fun read. Knowing every single place (Purdue especially) that Axton lived also made me view the screenings she did within her own "eyes". She is far, far more affected long term than even SHE knows.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    Let me warn you before you open this book: DON'T GET SPOILED. Multiple Goodreads reviews and even a coworker who listened to Betz-Hamilton's episode of the podcast Criminal totally ruined the big reveal for me. Try to stay away from anything that smacks of a spoiler and go in with a clear mind. Betz-Hamilton's story is truly crazy. She grew up in Portland, Indiana, a small farming town, to a relatively poor family (side note: she constantly refers to Portland with no state appellation like it's Let me warn you before you open this book: DON'T GET SPOILED. Multiple Goodreads reviews and even a coworker who listened to Betz-Hamilton's episode of the podcast Criminal totally ruined the big reveal for me. Try to stay away from anything that smacks of a spoiler and go in with a clear mind. Betz-Hamilton's story is truly crazy. She grew up in Portland, Indiana, a small farming town, to a relatively poor family (side note: she constantly refers to Portland with no state appellation like it's a city people have heard of - I definitely thought she was referring to either Maine or Oregon for a good chunk of the book). Her dad was not a farm boy, but quickly took to the farming lifestyle after inheriting his wife's dad's property. Her mom had a variety of middle-class jobs. But soon enough, the bills started pouring in, the water was shut off, strange things started to happen. Her dad was baffled at this: where was their money going? Who was spending it and on what? Her mom quickly realized what was going on: their identities were stolen. It was fraud. They had no idea who the culprit was, but they were financially underwater and fast. Axton's parents began to drill a sense of paranoia into her: Don't open the door for anyone. You see anyone on our property, you pick up the nearest weapon and call dad. This obviously causes a lot of trauma for young Axton. As she gets older, she gets lost in academia, letting that be her release - she actually goes into the field of identity theft research, contributing to the relatively sparse body of work and quickly getting invited to speak at prestigious conferences and universities. But one day, after a series of heartwrenching family events, she discovers who the identity thief was all along. It's not a pretty revelation. I enjoyed listening to this book, although I have to say that I came into the story already knowing what happens. The reveal wasn't shocking to me, but the whole situation still baffles me. Going into spoiler mode in 3..2...1.... (view spoiler)[How could her mom be spending all of this money? What was she even spending it on!? How was life enjoyable for her, living in constant debt and seeing her daughter and husband miserable on top of it all? How was this even slightly worth any joy she could have gotten from material purchases? Am I the only one who thought the ending suggesting she had MPD/DID was totally bunk???? (hide spoiler)] Anyways, this is definitely an interesting story to pick up, particularly if you enjoy the new resurgence in true crime/fraud stories.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Pamela Shauger

    I hate to rate a memoir. But this one was lacking for me in some way. Too much information in some places, far too little in others. I guess maybe my issue is that the focus is about Identity Theft, when in fact it should be about Mental Illness.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Dara

    This blew my mind! An absolutely bizarre story that proves once again that real life can be more outlandish than fiction. This story of identity theft is so much crazier than I expected. I actually can’t believe the author was able to get to a point where she could write about it. To say it enveloped her entire life is an understatement. It made her who she is but also upended everything she knew. A fast read, page turner, real life thriller- I am not sure how to classify it. Definitely a very p This blew my mind! An absolutely bizarre story that proves once again that real life can be more outlandish than fiction. This story of identity theft is so much crazier than I expected. I actually can’t believe the author was able to get to a point where she could write about it. To say it enveloped her entire life is an understatement. It made her who she is but also upended everything she knew. A fast read, page turner, real life thriller- I am not sure how to classify it. Definitely a very personal account and I applaud her for sharing. I am still shocked and speechless and I only read about it- she lived it!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    If you go in thinking this is a mystery, you need to reframe mystery not as a whodunnit and more of a whydunnit. Axton's life was flipped over and over again due to identity theft that plagued her small family from the time she was born. Even when she managed to get away from her tiny Indiana town and to college, the identity theft followed her. It wasn't until her mother's death that the truth of who her mother was -- and what she did and did not do -- came to light. This was engrossing and sad If you go in thinking this is a mystery, you need to reframe mystery not as a whodunnit and more of a whydunnit. Axton's life was flipped over and over again due to identity theft that plagued her small family from the time she was born. Even when she managed to get away from her tiny Indiana town and to college, the identity theft followed her. It wasn't until her mother's death that the truth of who her mother was -- and what she did and did not do -- came to light. This was engrossing and saddening, both for the author who experienced it, as well as for her mother who was extremely mentally ill. That doesn't come up in those words, but readers will know and understand. The fact of the matter is mom died before everything came to light, and since she can't explain herself, trying to understand the whys or hows isn't possible. What's left are the pieces which lead to a whole other side of her life she'd never been truthful about. I couldn't put this one down, as it falls squarely in the bloodless crime genre I love. It's a memoir, too, and the marriage works well here. It would make for a great read alike to EDUCATED, for the family story, as well as to DUPED for the ways in which people you think you know can lead entirely different lives in ways that seem surprisingly seamless (even when they're not).

  8. 5 out of 5

    Emily Newell

    I heard about this book on Fresh Air and was super excited. I thought it would be more of a mystery, but it’s easy early on to figure out who the perpetrator is. For how fascinating the story is, it should be a more engaging read, but something about the writing or pacing was just off.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Deb

    This is a WOW story and not in a good way. This story, true events, took place in the city/county that I've lived in all my life. I vaguely remember Pam Betz; insurance agency and bookkeeper. I'm shocked to learn of the manipulation, lies and decept that took place over so many years. But I truly hurt for the young child, girl, teenage, Axton, that can't have a life do over, that suffered emotionally as well as physically. She would have been welcomed at my meager dinner table anytime. Should I This is a WOW story and not in a good way. This story, true events, took place in the city/county that I've lived in all my life. I vaguely remember Pam Betz; insurance agency and bookkeeper. I'm shocked to learn of the manipulation, lies and decept that took place over so many years. But I truly hurt for the young child, girl, teenage, Axton, that can't have a life do over, that suffered emotionally as well as physically. She would have been welcomed at my meager dinner table anytime. Should I have the opportunity to meet this author I would tell her how proud of her, that I am, that she rose above of her circumstances, obtained an education, pursued the buried truth and had the fortitude to put her painful story out in print for all to see. If it helps or inspires only one person, it is worth it.

  10. 5 out of 5

    NICOLE VENTRESCA

    This was a fascinating story BUT the author’s “writer’s voice” annoyed me to no end. She somehow managed to be self-pitying and know it all simultaneously. Pretty amazing feat. One of my favorite chapter endings? “I want to know the truth because the truth is important.” 🤮

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Dilg

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. SPOILERS This book isn’t about Identity Theft. It’s about mental illness and childhood emotional abuse. Mental illness is only brought up near the end as an afterthought (it’s not DID - it’s more like borderline personality disorder). I don’t really know what to say about this book except that it would make a very interesting magazine article or TV special but as a book it just didn’t work for me. Also, we’re we supposed to not realize it was the mom until that was revealed because it was pretty SPOILERS This book isn’t about Identity Theft. It’s about mental illness and childhood emotional abuse. Mental illness is only brought up near the end as an afterthought (it’s not DID - it’s more like borderline personality disorder). I don’t really know what to say about this book except that it would make a very interesting magazine article or TV special but as a book it just didn’t work for me. Also, we’re we supposed to not realize it was the mom until that was revealed because it was pretty clear all along that it was.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    Interesting story, but wouldn’t categorize as true crime. It would have been better as a podcast than long form book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Never Without a Book

    When you think you know someone and find out you have no clue who they are. Axton Betz-Hamilton’s family has been struggling financial for years. Her mother, Pamela, controlled the house income while her father worked & handed over the money. Day in, day out bill collectors would call & the refrigerator would be empty. None of this made sense as both parents made decent money. Moving forward, Betz-Hamilton goes off to college and is all set to get her own place but ends up being denied because of When you think you know someone and find out you have no clue who they are. Axton Betz-Hamilton’s family has been struggling financial for years. Her mother, Pamela, controlled the house income while her father worked & handed over the money. Day in, day out bill collectors would call & the refrigerator would be empty. None of this made sense as both parents made decent money. Moving forward, Betz-Hamilton goes off to college and is all set to get her own place but ends up being denied because of credit debt that she had since she was 11 years old. Wait? What?! Oh, wait, it gets better. At this point Betz-Hamilton has had enough! She files a police report and continues her search on the identity theft that is causing mayhem in her life. Betz-Hamilton mother is diagnosed with leukemia and doesn’t have much time. She and her father do all they can to make her comfortable & gather all information so he can live. That means getting all her passwords to pay the bills. SHOCKING moment about to happen! When Pam dies all her skeletons are revealed and once, I found out my jaw dropped! I don’t want to spoil anything, just read this book. That pacing sucks, but its not enough to make you stop reading. As the story unfolded all I could say was “wtf!”, “no way!” . True crime junkies will enjoy this one. Thank you, NetGalley & Grand Central Publishing for gifting me this DARC in exchange for an honest review.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Melody

    A terrible thing to have happen but very well told.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    3.5/ 4 stars for this one. Loved the true crime factor behind this memoir! Axton’s family has struggled for years financially with bill collectors calling and foreclosures imminent. Moving forward, Axton goes to college and realizes her identity has been stolen as well. How could she have opened a credit card at 11? Schooling turn of events and a twist I did not see coming that sets us up for the rest of the book. I’m still reeling from it! I kept saying No Way as I was reading! A quick read tha 3.5/ 4 stars for this one. Loved the true crime factor behind this memoir! Axton’s family has struggled for years financially with bill collectors calling and foreclosures imminent. Moving forward, Axton goes to college and realizes her identity has been stolen as well. How could she have opened a credit card at 11? Schooling turn of events and a twist I did not see coming that sets us up for the rest of the book. I’m still reeling from it! I kept saying No Way as I was reading! A quick read that definitely makes you second guess knowing people.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

    Quick and engaging read - I did not want to stop reading this. So much so, that one day I left the book at work and I nearly cried because it meant I couldn't read it before bed. My Library has this book shelved under "364.163," which is the Criminal Offenses section. I thought this book was more of a memoir. Betz-Hamilton takes the reader through her life, highlighting the parts that impacted her the most, as her family suffered from identity theft. Betz-Hamilton explains how she learned to be de Quick and engaging read - I did not want to stop reading this. So much so, that one day I left the book at work and I nearly cried because it meant I couldn't read it before bed. My Library has this book shelved under "364.163," which is the Criminal Offenses section. I thought this book was more of a memoir. Betz-Hamilton takes the reader through her life, highlighting the parts that impacted her the most, as her family suffered from identity theft. Betz-Hamilton explains how she learned to be defensive and protective of her home as her parents dealt with charges that couldn't be explained. This ordeal inspired Betz-Hamilton to focus on identity theft professional, making a career out of it. Her passion solidified when she learned that she, just like her parents, also had her identity stolen. After her mother's death, however, the truth about the hardships the family suffered were revealed. I loved this book, it was well written and interesting. I felt the author, although not completely transparent, lead the reader to guess who the thief of their identities was.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca S Chapman Dann

    Once I started it I couldn’t do anything else. This feisty young woman is from my hometown. I am aware that her portrayal of our area, Jay County, IN has angered some people but I guess when I read it I didn’t take it personally because I knew she was seeing her world as indoctrinated by her mother. I do hate it that her childhood was so dysfunctional. This is a fascinating memoir but also a good view at the lives of a family torn apart by mental illness and deceit. How terrible to find out that Once I started it I couldn’t do anything else. This feisty young woman is from my hometown. I am aware that her portrayal of our area, Jay County, IN has angered some people but I guess when I read it I didn’t take it personally because I knew she was seeing her world as indoctrinated by her mother. I do hate it that her childhood was so dysfunctional. This is a fascinating memoir but also a good view at the lives of a family torn apart by mental illness and deceit. How terrible to find out that one whom you have trusted and adored your whole life has hurt you to your very core with no sign of remorse. Ms Betz-Hamilton has taken identity theft to heart and made it her occupation to help victims. UPDATE I went with friends to her presentation at Arts Place in Portland, Indiana which is where she graduated from high school. She is a pretty, articulate young woman. It was an excellent presentation both about her life and about how identity theft happens. I had a nice little chat with her after and I hope she enjoyed her visit as much as I did.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Rhiannon Johnson

    [I received a copy of this release from the publisher in exchange for an honest review] The summary of "The Less People Know About Us: A Mystery of Betrayal, Family Secrets, and Stolen Identity" (releasing 10/15/19) caught my eye because identity theft is horrifying and fascinating to me. I want to know how these things happen? Who are the perpetrators? How do people rebuild their lives after they've had their identities stolen? I was really surprised that while I thought this book would be focus [I received a copy of this release from the publisher in exchange for an honest review] The summary of "The Less People Know About Us: A Mystery of Betrayal, Family Secrets, and Stolen Identity" (releasing 10/15/19) caught my eye because identity theft is horrifying and fascinating to me. I want to know how these things happen? Who are the perpetrators? How do people rebuild their lives after they've had their identities stolen? I was really surprised that while I thought this book would be focused on the intricacies of financial accounts, creditors, etc., the author's personal story had me crying several times. By bravely sharing her story, Axton Betz-Hamilton shows that the so called "white collar crime" of identity theft is an often overlooked form of abuse that can utterly devastate a family.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Nicole (buriedinmybooks)

    Would like to give this 3.5 stars but since that’s not possible and I don’t think it’s a 4 star read, I rounded down. The story is fascinating but I didn’t love the writing. That said 3 stars for the writing and 4 stars for the story.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Marie

    I found the first two thirds of this one dull and lacking depth, but the last third was really good. If you’ve started this and are thinking of giving it up, stick with it.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Donna Hines

    It really is amazing when you think about family bonds and how they can be so delicate and fragile yet irretrievably broken. What was truly hard to comprehend is how those meant to protect, guide, and support are often the very individuals who betray our trust especially when young and nieve. In this case the entire family suffered at the hands of one who ultimately cashed in and cashed out. Those years cannot be recovered as those left behind now must put the financial pieces back together and reb It really is amazing when you think about family bonds and how they can be so delicate and fragile yet irretrievably broken. What was truly hard to comprehend is how those meant to protect, guide, and support are often the very individuals who betray our trust especially when young and nieve. In this case the entire family suffered at the hands of one who ultimately cashed in and cashed out. Those years cannot be recovered as those left behind now must put the financial pieces back together and rebuild. I know this feeling well as it's known in NPD as financial abuse. Sadly, I was left bankrupt, homeless, and unemployed after trusting my spouse that we were building a future together one that involved our family and three kids. Much like this situation I learned later on that everything that should've been paid was in fact not and everything that was to be saved or directed to provide for those in the family was in fact hidden away for 'the one' without anyone's knowledge. The way I finally uncovered the truth was in divorce when the attorney scoffed at me for not having knowledge of not only my spouse's income but also the taxes being filed on my behalf w/o my signature of ability to view as he used Turbo Tax online. This led to a multitude of discoveries including how he cashed out and or sold everything of value including so many collectible items that he moved us up a tax bracket causing a high repayment. This led to the discovery of cashed out mutual funds including our children's college funds all wiped out completely. All property was mortgaged and emptied of all cash value using home equity lines of credit. The same property we were forced to vacate from after utilities turned off and he refused to pay child support for well over a year resulting in homelessness. Is it the unthinkable? YES! IS IT HELL?! YES. However, while I sit here typing to you to tell you we're still in extreme poverty what is most important isn't our status or labels. It's the fact we are still thriving, surviving, rebuilding and doing so together. It's a painstakingly slow process but as long as you have your kids which are my only family at the moment then you have the world. Life isn't about sucker punches and betrayal --Life must be about love, compassion, empathy --so I say the karma train will come around and those who do you wrong will pay. In the meantime focus on your strengths, your talents, your abilities and the world will be your oyster. God bless this family and all those who were taken advantage of as the world is often cruel but we are reminded what's most important.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Audra (ouija.doodle.reads)

    I first learned about Axton Betz-Hamilton’s almost unbelievable struggle with identity theft on one of my favorite true crime podcasts, Criminal hosted by Phoebe Judge. Her story is one of the most interesting and shocking I’ve heard, but what I really hold on to is how inspirational Axton is—how she took the most difficult, embarrassing, and threatening thing about her life and turned it into her strength. True crime/memoir books seem to pack much more of a punch than journalism-based true crime I first learned about Axton Betz-Hamilton’s almost unbelievable struggle with identity theft on one of my favorite true crime podcasts, Criminal hosted by Phoebe Judge. Her story is one of the most interesting and shocking I’ve heard, but what I really hold on to is how inspirational Axton is—how she took the most difficult, embarrassing, and threatening thing about her life and turned it into her strength. True crime/memoir books seem to pack much more of a punch than journalism-based true crime books, and this one is no exception. Though she does save the reveal until almost the end, this is really less of a whodunnit than a deep investigation into why—a question that I don’t know can ever be satisfactorily answered. Betz-Hamilton walks down every avenue, looking for clues and answers, and finding herself along the way. For me, the pleasure in reading this book is not in solving the mystery but rather in the path through, the exploration, the coming-of-age. This is a really different type of true crime story to try if you want to take a break from all the murders. It is a true human-interest piece that I think everyone will be able to relate to on some level. My thanks to Grand Central Publishing for my copy of this one to read and review.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    Whoa! I was lucky in that I did not know who the person was responsible for the identity theft, until I reached that reveal in the book. From the reviews, some readers were "spoiled" by that element, unfortunately, before reading. I like a good true-crime book. Check! I like a good memoir. Check! Lucky for me (unlucky for the author) this book is both. It started out a tad slow and I thought...ok...this girl's life seems pretty mundane. But then it picked up and I was drawn in and hanging on eve Whoa! I was lucky in that I did not know who the person was responsible for the identity theft, until I reached that reveal in the book. From the reviews, some readers were "spoiled" by that element, unfortunately, before reading. I like a good true-crime book. Check! I like a good memoir. Check! Lucky for me (unlucky for the author) this book is both. It started out a tad slow and I thought...ok...this girl's life seems pretty mundane. But then it picked up and I was drawn in and hanging on every word. Good for Axton, for picking herself up and going to college and making something of herself. Good for her. Recommended. (Reading this, and going to college and making something of yourself.) 😁😎

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kit

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I feel bad rating this three stars, because it's her LIFE. But...until the mystery was revealed...it was kind of boring. Even with chasing people off with a knife. I don't know, maybe I'm being unfair. I DO wonder, along with her, why no one asked any questions. I don't understand how her father never noticed, but I know that's being unfair and victim-blaming - he was manipulated and gaslit. I hope she finds the money.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ruth

    I first learned about Axton's story through an episode of the podcast Criminal. Eager for more info on a tragic and intriguing family dynamic, I picked this up. As memoirs go, I sort of think this one buries the lede. For the author's sake, I wish there were more answers available.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    When Axton Betz-Hamilton was eleven-years-old her parents identity was stolen. This was before the internet made this type of fraud easier, so they had little help from the authorities. They did what they could by getting a PO Box to make it harder for someone to steal their mail, but anxiety and money troubles plagued all three of them. Axton grew up learning not to ask for much because it would result in an argument between her parents about money. Because they didn't know who the identity the When Axton Betz-Hamilton was eleven-years-old her parents identity was stolen. This was before the internet made this type of fraud easier, so they had little help from the authorities. They did what they could by getting a PO Box to make it harder for someone to steal their mail, but anxiety and money troubles plagued all three of them. Axton grew up learning not to ask for much because it would result in an argument between her parents about money. Because they didn't know who the identity theft was they cut off almost everyone from their lives. When Axton went to college she found out that she too has also been a victim of the identity theif and had tens of thousands of dollars of debt already in her name. Because of this she ended up going all the way to a PhD with her dissertation being about childhood victims of identity theft and becoming an expert in the newly emerging field of identity theft. After her mother passed away the identity of the identity theft is revealed and it completely rocks Axton's world. Then she's on a mission to find out everything she can about the thief hoping it will help her understand why all this happened. Meanwhile she and her father are still trying to pick up the pieces of their lives and move on after her mother's death. A fast-paced story that reads more like a whodunit novel than non-fiction, this is a heart-breaking, but hopeful read about how to move beyond a painful childhood even when you don't have all the answers. There were a lot of mixed reviews of this book, but I LOVED it. Without giving anything away, I felt like it was pretty obvious who the identity thief was from the beginning, but even more secrets are uncovered at the end. Some of the complaints in reviews were that this book should have been less about identity theft and more about mental illness, but I disagree. The book is from Axton's perspective and it wasn't until she uncovered who the thief was that she began to see how abnormal her childhood was and how mental illness came into play. And identity theft became Axton's career because of what happened in her childhood, so to me it makes sense that that was the focus of the book. Some quotes I liked: "'The less people know about us, the better' was my mother's refrain. My father parroted it often. This wasn't a completely new phenomenon...In the years prior to the identity theft, when we still used to go to parties at their friends' houses, Mom would instruct me to 'act like you belong here.' Belonging somewhere in rural Indiana meant being a happy family with a pristine farm. And so the hayfields on the south side of the house were neatly manicured, and when mowing the grass became by responsibility, Dad used to walk me around the yard afterward to personally demonstrate all the spots I had missed...Even during the full onslaught of the crimes committed against us, I was coached to report how great everything was going...All of it was an elaborate illusion, a magic trick we never stopped perfecting. On the outside, our lives looked solid and well put together, but on the inside, everything was falling apart. Everything including me." (p. 83-85) "This obsession with appearances ran deep and began well before the identity theft. My mother had struggled with her weight as long as I could remember. Once, when I was in first or second grade, I came home crying because the kids at school had called me fat. Instead of comforting me, or telling me that I wasn't fat (and in fact, quite scrawny), she said that, unfortunately, there was little to be done about it. 'Eventually you will be,' she declared, 'big like me.' After years of watching my mom try diets and take Dexatrim and argue with my father over her eating habits, this proclamation terrified me." (p. 85) "Sometimes when I think about what I have lost, I rage against the unfairness of it all. In many ways the financial impact of my family's identity theft was the least of the damage. You can rebuild your credit; you cannot rebuild your childhood." (p. 301)

  27. 5 out of 5

    Aimee

    “Slowly, our tether unwound, until it felt as if all we had left in common were the crimes committed against us.” This is an INSANE story and tough to get through. It’s about a family facing identity theft, but it goes so much deeper (and so much more sinister) than that. Nothing in this book is simple or as it seems - there are so many layers to get through and every single one is more shocking than the last. “All of it was an elaborate illusion, a magic trick we never stopped perfecting. On the “Slowly, our tether unwound, until it felt as if all we had left in common were the crimes committed against us.” This is an INSANE story and tough to get through. It’s about a family facing identity theft, but it goes so much deeper (and so much more sinister) than that. Nothing in this book is simple or as it seems - there are so many layers to get through and every single one is more shocking than the last. “All of it was an elaborate illusion, a magic trick we never stopped perfecting. On the outside, our lives looked solid and well put together, but on the inside, everything was falling apart.” This book also examines the desperation of keeping up appearances - spending money you don’t have, buying things you can’t afford. The theme of “perception” runs throughout the entire book, and it gets so incredibly dark at times. Betz-Hamilton also outlines how insecurity can be passed down through generations. It’s also incredibly sad - the isolation Betz-Hamilton felt as a child, and the effects she carries with her to this day. “...I learned that the most basic, fundamental truths about us were nothing more than masterful illusions.” The Less People Know About Us provides a raw and uncomfortable look at betrayal, financial abuse and compulsive lying. Even after the facts are laid out in front of you, it’s still hard to fathom how one person can so deeply and irrevocably harm the people they are supposed to love.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Carly Findlay

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Spoiler alert (due to requests - even though the Criminal podcast - which is how I found out about this book - gave it all away anyway). I read this book after hearing Axton on Criminal. I was intrigued. What a story. Axton Abetz-Hamilton and her family were the victims of identify theft. She found herself with a low credit score when she was at college. Turns out, it was her mother. Her mother deceived her and her father, leading a double life. Her mother financially and emotionally abused them Spoiler alert (due to requests - even though the Criminal podcast - which is how I found out about this book - gave it all away anyway). I read this book after hearing Axton on Criminal. I was intrigued. What a story. Axton Abetz-Hamilton and her family were the victims of identify theft. She found herself with a low credit score when she was at college. Turns out, it was her mother. Her mother deceived her and her father, leading a double life. Her mother financially and emotionally abused them for Aston’s whole life. Axton went on to study identify theft, yet didn’t know her mother was the culprit until after she died. I was puzzled about this. There were many red flags. Axton made the point that her mother’s actions and being a victim of identity theft is now the centre of her work. I really hope this book has helped her, and perhaps connected her with others who have experienced similar. It was a story stranger than fiction. I listened to the audiobook and found it unputdownable. It has parallels to Tara Westover’s Educated too. This book contains mentions of mental illness, disordered eating and financial and emotional abuse.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mitch Karunaratne

    I'd not heard anything about this story before diving in - so the revelations were shocking. Betz-Hamilton charts the emotional, financial and psychological trauma of being engulfed in an elaborate identify theft that begun when she was 11 years old. I read this in one day, so driven was the story line.... it was definitely a 'just one more chapter' kind of a book. The closing chapters were the weakest and the only part where I was craving for her to go deeper than she did.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Winsome

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Heard about this story on The Criminal Podcast and had this sitting in my reading list for ages. I started it quite a while ago, but somehow got distracted about half why through before picking back up toast week. I’m often a bit hesitant with memoirs/autobiographies. As intriguing as many of the stories are, sometimes the person telling their story is just not a skilled writer. I am usually pretty forgiving - I don’t expect everyone to be a fabulous a writer, but I am always pleasantly relived Heard about this story on The Criminal Podcast and had this sitting in my reading list for ages. I started it quite a while ago, but somehow got distracted about half why through before picking back up toast week. I’m often a bit hesitant with memoirs/autobiographies. As intriguing as many of the stories are, sometimes the person telling their story is just not a skilled writer. I am usually pretty forgiving - I don’t expect everyone to be a fabulous a writer, but I am always pleasantly relived when they are. I also appreciate when a writer narrates their own audiobook, and it was only at the end of this one that I realised Axton is not the narrator. Axton, an only child, grew up on a farm in a small rural community, and when she was a young child her family became the victims of identity theft, which continued to plague her family for the decades to follow. Her mother suspected the culprit was someone they knew, stealing their mail to gain financial & personal information, so she insisted they isolate themselves for protection - the less people know about us, the better. When Axton went to university, she discovered her credit score was about as low as it could get, and she had many problems securing accomodation, getting utilities connected, getting a car loan, etc. due to credit card defaults going back to to when she was a child. She began researching identify theft and did her PhD on financial abuse and identity theft, initially to discover what had happened in her own situation, but also to help others, and she became an early expert on the subject. After her mother’s death, from breast cancer at age 56, her father discovered some paperwork and her mother’s web of lies started to unravel - Axton’s mother, Pam, was behind everything. She was a profligate liar, leading many lives - one with her husband & daughter, and other fictional ones she presented to the world outside her home - other family members she was holding at arms length, her coworkers, friends form her school days, local friends and neighbours, and also online. Pam was clearly mentally ill, unfulfilled, unhappy, and resentful. She was controlling over her husband and daughter, assuming responsibility for managing the household while while their lives were a constant turmoil of confusion. I did feel frustrated many times, especially with the passivity of the Axtons’s father John. Axton herself was only about 7 when the mail theft began. Pam was was manipulative and emotionally abusive, about Axton’s appearance, prospects, all sorts of things. Her compliments were backhanded. She drove people apart with her lies, even her own husband and daughter. It’s understandable that Axton felt powerless against her mother, but it’s more infuriating that John was never more proactive in getting to the bottom of his families financial problems. He did question Pam many times and she always managed to talk her way around him, insisting she had things under control and he was too lacking in business/economic acumen to understand what was going on. As Axton was, John was also a victim of Pam’s domestic abuse, and he was working hard to keep his business afloat under the financial pressure of the victimisation (“it’s not personal” Pam would always remind them when they’d get yet another debt collection notice or foreclosure notice or Axton almost thrown out of uni for non payment of fees) and I’m trying not to victim blame him, but I was so wishing he’d start to investigate Pam’s flimsy excuses. Anyway, brains are weird, amirite? I think the story maybe have benefited if it had a circular narrative, a prologue telling us about Pam’s death & the discovery before going back to the start of Axton’s story. Obviously not all readers are coming with that foreknowledge, but the story has been told in many other media, on the news, chat shows, Podcasts, books on identity theft and so forth, and I think it would be nice if all readers were aware of Pam’s digressions instead of it being a “big reveal” after her death. I do have some sympathy for Pam, just as I do for Belle Gibson and others like them. Their lives didn’t quite go as planned, they had some struggles and their circumstances plus whatever neurological idiosyncrasies and a lack of “adult supervision and guidance” has lead to them derailing in hugely destructive way. It certainly doesn’t sound like fun living inside their heads as they try to escape reality into their chaotic fantasies. A cautionary tale worth reading.

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