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Protect yourself from estranged husband poaching your good credit

Spouse may have committed fraud; should you put the screws to him?

By

To Her Credit
To Her Credit, Sally Herigstad
Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and the author of "Help! I Can't Pay My Bills: Surviving a Financial Crisis" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). She writes "To Her Credit," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues involving women, credit and debt, for CreditCards.com, and also wrote for MSN Money, Interest.com and Bankrate.com, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs. See her website SallyHerigstad.com for more personal finance tips and free budgeting worksheets.
Ask Sally a question, or read her previous answers in the To Her Credit archive
Question for the CreditCards.com expert
Dear To Her Credit,

My husband and I have not lived together since 2003, yet we never became legally separated. We tried to divorce several times. Well, I tried, but with money problems, family problems, health issues, and so on, we never completed the process. We went to a hearing to get legally separated, but the lawyer was so bad, we had to drop the whole thing.

The other day he told me he had to use my personal information to buy some equipment he needed for work because his credit is worse than mine. He says he never intends to have me pay a dime, even though the card has only my name on it. He just signs as Mr. Headley instead of Mrs. whenever he uses it! I saw for myself that he has already paid half or three-quarters of the balance. He says it is with a major hardware chain and no interest will be charged until next year.

I am upset and do not know if he broke a law or whether I should file charges or even if I could since we are still married. In Georgia, I know identity theft is a big deal and a felony. It is about time he got what he deserved. -- Morgan

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Morgan,
Yes, it's possible he broke the law and he could be in big trouble. The question now is what you want to do about it. Wayne Sanford of Your Credit Specialist deals with clients in similar situations regularly. He says, "Whether you have kids is usually the determining factor on whether you put the screws on him."

If you decide to go forward pursuing him for identity theft, take these steps:

  1. Get the names of every credit card company that gave him cards under your name or both your names without your permission. Because the credit is in your name, that information should be on your credit reports. You can obtain your credit reports from each of the main three credit reporting bureaus from the website www.annualcreditreport.com. "She's not the victim, the credit card companies are," says Sanford. "That means she has to get the listing of all the credit card companies and the complete account number. She may have to call the banks and have statements sent to her house."
  2. Request a copy of the original application. "She needs this because she is going to claim this is identity theft and is not her," says Sanford.
  3. Go to the police and file an identity theft report.
  4. Contact credit card company fraud departments. "Take the police report and contact creditors. Get a hold of the fraud department and say, ‘This isn't mine. Send me the paperwork. I've never authorized this or written a check on this and I'm in the process of filing charges.'" If the creditor tells you tough luck, you have to pay it anyway, don't take their word for it. Keep pursuing justice!
  5. If you're worried about your husband trying this again, sign up for a 90-day fraud alert at the credit bureaus. I recommend that -- after all, if he did it before, he could do it again. With the fraud alert in place, the creditor has to call you at a number you provide. If you provide the credit bureaus with a police report, they will place an extended fraud alert for seven years so no one can open any account, not even utilities, in your name without contacting you by phone. (Goodbye, impulse purchases!)

Placing a fraud alert -- also known as a "credit freeze" -- has become easier in recent years. You can place one by calling just one of the three major credit reporting agencies. The agency you call will notify the other two, and all three will place fraud alerts. The numbers and websites you can use to set up a fraud alert are:

The consequences to your husband if you report him can be severe. If you decide not to take legal action against him -- because, for instance  you have children together or if he convinces you he can pay it off within a month or two -- you should still take measures to protect yourself. (He might find a way to pay this off very fast if he knows you could file a police report!) Let your husband know that he cannot pull this trick again under any circumstances!

Then, I suggest a 90-day fraud alert placed on your accounts at the credit bureaus, renewed at least until after your divorce is final.

It's your credit. Don't let anyone ruin it!

See related: How to spot, fix identity theft and fraud

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Published: September 26, 2009


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