If mom opens cards in your name, it's family fraud

Start with a conversation, then get a police report


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

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Question Dear Opening Credits,
I recently found out my mother opened two credit card accounts without my permission. I talked to her, and she gave me the cards. I paid off the balances, and I canceled the cards today. They asked for a reason, and I told them that my mother opened these accounts without my permission. The first cancellation went smoothly, but the second card was canceled pending a “fraud investigation.” Is my mother in any trouble? I don't want her to be, but I also do not want my credit to get any worse than it already is. Also, what steps should I take? – Kevin


Dear Kevin,
Knowing your mother took advantage of you in this way has got to be awful. If it helps, I assure you that fraud among family members happens a lot. Most of the time the victims are just like you – wanting to rectify the damage but reluctant to get the perpetrator in trouble.

Do be aware that you did not need to delete the debt that your mom incurred. Because the accounts were fraudulently opened, you were not liable for the balances. Had you called and explained that you were disputing the debt, the issuers probably would have also freed you from the obligation.

Regarding the “fraud investigation,” don’t worry. This case is closed, since there is not much for the issuer to do now. The account is null and void, and there is no outstanding balance. On their end, it’s over.

On your end though, you have some work to do. Here are the steps you need to take:

  1. Meet with mom. There are some serious underlying issues that must be addressed. If you haven’t yet, find out why she opened the cards. Was she desperate for money? Does she have a medical problem that makes her incapable of making rational decisions? Is she untrustworthy, or does she have some hostility against you and want to hurt you? Whatever the case, you need to know so you can help her and protect yourself.
  2. File a police report. I can tell you are reluctant to do this, but please hear me out! Law enforcement personnel have far more-pressing crimes on their plates than a couple of credit cards that were opened fraudulently and have already been paid off and closed. Your mother will not spend time behind bars, I assure you. In fact, chances are she won’t ever be contacted about this matter. But you need the police report number to complete the next step.
  3. Add a fraud alert to your credit files. Fraud alerts instruct lenders to take extra measures to verify your identification before granting a credit line or loan. If your mom tries to open a card in your name again, she should be thwarted. While you can have your file flagged for 90 days online and without a police report, you’ll need the police report if you want the alert to last for seven years. You’ll need to complete this process via snail mail, with one of the credit reporting agencies (for example, here is TransUnion’s extended alert request information). It will notify the other agencies. A more-serious (and costly) step is a credit freeze. As the name implies, it prevents new credit from being opened in your name.
  4. Monitor your credit reports and credit cards. You must remain vigilant. Check your credit reports every few months (it won’t affect your credit score, so don’t worry about that) and look for evidence of fraud that may have slipped through the cracks. You can pull your report from each bureau (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) for free once a year at Carefully read over your bank and credit card statements, too. If your mother has access to your wallet, personal information and mail, she could charge on your existing cards and tap your checking and savings accounts. Dispute any irregularities immediately. Enroll in online banking and stop paper statements from being delivered, then change your passwords to something she’ll never guess.

I hope you get to the bottom of this sad situation and never have to go through it again. Good luck.

See related: Why you should file a police report for card fraud

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Published: October 5, 2016

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Updated: 10-27-2016

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