How to fix credit after dad opens card in son's name


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,
Last year, my father asked me if I wanted a credit card, and I told him no. A few months later, my father handed me a Capital One credit card with my name on it. I have never set foot in a Capital One branch, nor did I fill out any paperwork or sign any forms to apply for this card. After logging in to the account, I discovered my father was in possession of the card for three months before he gave it to me, making minimal payments and effectively ruining my credit. My question is: Can I report and file charges against my father for identity theft and fraud, even if I have used the card myself? – David


Dear David,
That your father presented you with a credit card when you specifically said you weren’t interested is ... curious. That ought to have been enough for him to rescind the offer. But he didn’t, so let’s talk fraud and liability.

There are two possible scenarios:

  1. Your father made you an authorized user against your wishes. That’s rude, and can temporarily damage your credit, but it’s easily corrected.
  2. Your father opened a credit account in your name. The word rude is the mildest one that can be applied. Other words include fraud, criminal and contemptible. In addition to being illegal, that act has the potential to cause substantial, lingering credit damage.

Let's look at both, starting with the mild and easily forgiveable one.

If dad made you an authorized user
If dad made you an authorized user on his credit card, you shouldn't have much to worry about. Most credit card issuers allow credit card owners to add any number of people to their existing account. It’s an easy process, usually just requiring a phone call to the issuer with the request. Dad would have had to provide just your name and address, and possibly your Social Security number. With that data, the issuer would send out a card with your name on it. Then that account information would be sent to the credit reporting – TransUnion, Experian and Equifax – so that credit card would be listed on your credit report. If the primary account holder has good credit, then that information boosts the credit of the authorized user. If the primary has bad credit, it drags down the credit of the authorized user.

As an authorized user you have the right to charge, but you are not responsible for payments or accumulated debt. You also can extract yourself from the arrangement at any time by calling the issuer. Which you should do now. Once you’re no longer an authorized user, Capital One will stop reporting the account for your credit reports as soon as you tell them you want it off there. It takes about a month for the information to clear out. If the account is still listed on your credit reports after a month, dispute that with the credit reporting agency. 

What your dad did was wrong because you told him you didn’t want a card, but it’s not against the law. Regarding any charges you made as an authorized user on the card, responsibility for payment belongs to your dad. If he wants you to repay him, you two can work it out together.

If dad opened credit in your name
On the other hand, your father may have used your identity to open the card or made you a co-applicant without your permission. In that case, then yes, he committed identity theft.

It is called familiar fraud, and sadly, it is common.

What to do
To find out which it is, contact Capital One and ask about the ownership status. If you discover that your father committed identity theft, follow these steps:

  • Call your local police station and file a fraud report. Some police officers may be reluctant to take the report, but press the matter.
  • Call your card issuer. Because the account was fraudulently opened, it should be closed and not appear on your credit file. Make sure the account is closed, and offer the police report number.
  • Log on to one of the credit reporting agencies’ websites. Add a fraud alert to your file to prevent your dad from opening other accounts in your name. The other two agencies will be notified and update your file. If you want to go further, you may choose to freeze your credit file. No business or individual will be unable to access your credit history without you “thawing” it first. If the account is still appearing on your reports, dispute it via snail mail, not online.

What happens to the debt you legitimately acquired on a fraudulently opened card? If you are a minor, no problem – you’re not responsible. If you’re an adult and the issuer wants to hold you liable for your charges and comes after you for payment, the situation may be trickier. Your father’s charges, on the other hand, might be forgiven if he was using the account under fraudulent circumstances. “Familiar identity theft, as it’s called, is much harder for the courts to deal with and for the card companies to forgive,” says identity theft expert Robert Siciliano.

I also reached out to the Identity Theft Resource Center on your behalf regarding what can happen to your dad should you take legal action. According to CEO and President Eva Velasquez, “You can’t relinquish responsibility for this account without the police report, but once that report is filed you will no longer have control over what the prosecutor’s office or courts decide when it comes to prosecution.”

A warning though: If this account is indeed in your name, you essentially accepted the responsibility for it when you used the card. That might make proving identity theft difficult. 

See related: Why you should file a police report for card fraud, How to remove an authorized user from a credit card account

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Published: September 14, 2016

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Updated: 10-26-2016

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