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Deceased dad left trail of fraudulent accounts

By

Opening Credits
Columnist Erica Sandberg
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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Question Dear Opening Credits,
My hubby and I rented a home, and they said his credit was less than stellar. We ordered a credit report and on it we found some credit cards and a Fingerhut account opened a few years ago that my husband has no recollection of. He thought he just forgot about it, as the charge amounts weren’t high, but when my husband’s father passed away, we had his father’s mail forwarded to our home and noticed some things were coming in my husband’s name (even his mother’s name and they had been divorced for over 30 years). It appears his dad was using his info, and we didn’t realize it. What proof do we need to file a police report and to have these items removed from his credit report? – Bridget

Answer

Dear Bridget,
What a sad discovery. No one wants to think a parent would do such a thing, yet identity theft among family members is terribly common.

Whether your husband will be held responsible for any debts on the fraudulently opened accounts or if he can have them removed from his credit reports is in question. It appears the crime started years ago, and now that your father-in-law is deceased, that can make correcting things trickier.

This doesn’t mean your husband shouldn’t file a police report now, long after the fact. He should. According to Eva Velasquez, president of the Identity Theft Resource Center, if your husband disputes the accounts with the credit bureaus and files a police report, he may be able to escape liability. Even if he has made a payment here and there, liability for a fraudulent account lies with the thief who racked up the debt.

Here are the steps he needs to take:

1. Call the credit card issuers. Your husband should explain that the accounts were not opened by him but by his father who committed identity theft. They may send paperwork for him to complete so he can make a statement about the fraud, which he can present to the police. Or he can use the Identity Theft Victim’s Complaint and Affidavit form from the Federal Trade Commission.

2. Contact the local police department. Either in person or over the phone, your husband will have to explain that his father opened certain accounts without his permission and that he wants to file a police report. He’ll need to provide his personal identification information, details about what happened, and the credit card fraud affidavit or documents. He may have a harder time convincing an officer to open a case since your father is deceased, but your husband should insist that he needs a case number in order to clear the accounts with the credit bureaus.

3. Dispute the accounts with the credit reporting agencies. The Fair Credit Reporting Act stipulates that the credit reporting agencies must ensure the information they place on a person’s credit file is accurate -- and if it’s not, that it can be removed. Your husband can file the dispute on one of the credit reporting agency’s websites (the others will be updated automatically), but mailing it in is better because he won’t have to agree to an arbitration clause. Proof will be in the form of the police report and the affidavit or credit issuer fraud document. The agency will investigate and if they find in his favor, the accounts will be removed from all his credit reports and will no longer be factored in his credit scores.

If all goes according to plan, the fraudulently opened accounts will be wiped from your husband’s credit record and you can both breathe a collective sigh of relief. In case the credit issuer insists that your husband is on the hook and the credit reporting agencies determine that the accounts are legitimate, he can keep trying until he gets results. In the meantime, it also may be wise for him to attach a 100-word statement to his credit file, detailing what happened. It won’t change his credit rating, but anyone who pulls his reports will see the statement and may give him a break.

To end on a positive note, you and your husband may be in a better position than many who’ve been affected by family-related identity theft issues. As your father-in-law is no longer with us, hard feelings between the two men can’t erupt at the dinner table. Moreover, your husband doesn’t have to fear future fraud from his dad. 

See related: Why you file a police report for card fraud, 5 steps to take to dispute debt caused by ID theft

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Published: November 23, 2016


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Updated: 12-03-2016


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