Child charged merchandise on mother's account? Return it
Erica Sandberg is a prominent personal finance authority and author of "Expecting Money: The Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families." She writes "Opening Credits," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues for people who are new to credit, for CreditCards.com.
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Dear Opening Credits,
My 11-year-old granddaughter used her mother's Amazon account to purchase a bunch of merchandise without her mother's permission and Amazon will not take them back. Is a minor allowed to charge legally? What steps do they have to follow to return these and have them cleared? Thank you for a response. -- Tim
Your granddaughter needs to repackage all that "Frozen" gear (or whatever she bought) and prepare to part with it. Even if she was not previously aware that using someone else's credit card without consent was wrong, there should be no question in her mind that it is now. Therefore, she
should not be allowed to keep the stuff. If Amazon isn't budging because too much time has passed since the purchase or the condition of the items isn't
up to par, then merchandise ought to be donated to a worthy charity.
This doesn't mean that the mother is on the hook for the bill. Yes, it would have been easier for her had Amazon simply accepted the products
and provided a refund, but there is another way out. Because your daughter's child used the credit card without her knowledge or authorization, fraud
occurred, so she is not responsible for the charges.
According to the Truth in Lending Act, a federal law that
protects consumers, the maximum dollar amount that your daughter should be
liable for is $50, as long as she reports the theft quickly. So before any more
time passes, she must contact her credit card company to file a formal dispute.
Technically, she does not have to alert the police and obtain a report number,
but it wouldn't hurt her case. The child is a minor, and won't be sitting in a
jail cell over this matter. However, it would indicate to the credit card
company (as well as her daughter) that a crime was committed.
Now I'm not implying it will be an easy or fast problem for your
daughter to solve. The credit card company may balk at first, causing her to
spend considerable time on the phone. She'll need to write letters of
explanation, too, and produce some kind of evidence that her underage child
made those changes behind her back. Besides the police report, correspondence
with Amazon showing that she did try to rectify the situation with them can
help the issuer make a speedy decision in her favor.
Eventually, perseverance should produce the action she's looking
for, which is to have the unauthorized charges permanently purged from her
account. Mind that while she's in the process of dealing with this mess, her
credit rating may be negatively impacted. If her daughter charged a large sum,
it could have pushed her balances too close to the limit. When the charges are
removed, though, her scores will bounce back.
It is extremely important that your daughter teach her tween
about credit, money, the law and ethics. The child should be by her mother's
side while she's communicating with the creditor and the police department,
ready to admit what she did to all parties. Calmly and seriously, Mom should
talk about what it means to borrow money with a credit card and how payments
and balances show up on credit reports for a very long time. And finally, that
using another person's plastic without permission is never OK. It's a criminal
offense that, depending on age and other factors, can land a perpetrator in
See related: Who's responsible for child's unauthorized card charges?, How to undo unauthorized charges
Erica Sandberg is a nationally renowned personal finance authority. She’s host of several financial web shows, and a frequent guest for media outlets such as Fox, Forbes, Nightly Business Report and NPR. Erica previously was affiliated with Consumer Credit Counseling Service and was KRON-TV’s on-air credit expert. Her book, "Expecting Money: The Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families," was published in 2008 by Kaplan Press.
Send your question to Erica.
Published: June 18, 2014
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