Ex still charging on old joint card account


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, and also wrote for MSN Money, and, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs. See her website for more personal finance tips and free budgeting worksheets.
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Dear To Her Credit,
I've been divorced for years. At the end of the relationship, we had to file for bankruptcy. I thought all the cards were closed, but I just checked my credit report and it states I have a joint account card still open with my ex-husband. The credit limit is high by my standards, and although it's being paid on time and there's nothing negative, I would like my name removed.

We do not get along and no longer talk to each other, and I have no clue who the credit card is even through. I've never used the card and never had access to the card.

My ex has since remarried. I will be remarried in nine months. What can I do? -- Debra


Dear Debra,
That sounds like credit card fraud to me. It happens all the time -- during or after a divorce, one party decides to open a credit card account, conveniently adding the ex-spouse so they can qualify for credit. They may not intend to make the other party get stuck with the debt (although sometimes they do). They may even think their ex will never know they used his or her identity to acquire a new line of credit.

In the old days, when people may only have only seen their credit histories when they applied for a mortgage or other loan, an ex may have gotten away with a secret account for years, or until the account became delinquent and collectors started calling. Now, with federally mandated free credit reports you can see online, they're much more likely to be caught.

You can tell whether the card was issued before your divorce or if your ex-opened it fraudulently after the divorce by the date the card was opened. The credit report should show this information. The credit report should also show the name of the card issuing bank. Make sure you have pulled credit reports from the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. The card should be listed on all three reports, but even if it only shows up on one means the issuer just reports to one credit bureau.

If the card is fraudulent, the first thing you should do is report it to the police. You must have a police report to show that the case rises to the level of fraud.

You should also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

Next, send a copy of the police report to the credit card company. You can probably find an online form for reporting ID theft on the bank website, or you contact the bank and ask where to send the report. Explain that you were divorced as of a given date, and that you did not apply for this credit card. The bank must investigate your claim.

You should also contact one of the credit bureaus and have a fraud alert placed on your credit file if you think there's any chance your ex could try to open more accounts. When you contact one of the bureaus, that bureau is required to notify the other two. This would make it much harder for anyone to open credit in your name. The initial alert remains on your report for 90 days, and an extended fraud alert displays for seven years.

If the card is not fraudulent, but is just left over from before your divorce and bankruptcy, the credit card company generally will not take one joint cardholder off the account. They extended credit on the basis of both of your incomes and credit capabilities, and they have a contract with both of you. If your ex wants a card through this bank, he should apply on his own.

You should call or write to the credit card company and tell them to close the account immediately. I would close the account before telling a difficult ex, just in case he decides to go on one last vindictive spending spree.

Next, ask your ex to transfer the balance to his own credit card account or pay it off. If he resists, you can point out the divorce decree and any stipulations that all joint accounts be closed. If he's still using an account with your name on it, you can take him back to court for not abiding by the terms of the divorce. Tell him that he could be considered in contempt of a court order, which mean he could pay not only the credit card payments, but your attorney fees and court costs. If the balance is large and your ex still doesn't want to take responsibility for it, you may need to follow through and seek legal advice in your state.    

See related: Husband opened cards, ran up debt in your name? It's fraud, Adding yourself to spouse's card is fraud, Closing joint bank accounts after a breakup 

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Published: August 21, 2015

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