Help! My estranged wife stole 2 million reward points!


Cashing In
Cashing In columnist Tony Mecia
Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. He writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for

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Question Dear Cashing In,
After my wife filed for divorce, I immediately removed her from my American Express card. However, after I removed her, she called my credit card company and lied, saying that she was my fiancee (who is an authorized user). Pretending to be my fiancee, she asked AmEx to transfer 2 million points from AmEx to her Delta Air Lines frequent flier account. I already filed a police report, but what else should I do? I am afraid because she knows all my information and apparently the answers to the security questions. I am afraid she may not stop with airline points and use this information for other more damaging purposes. I would greatly appreciate any and all advice! -- Scot

Answer Dear Scot,
Wow, that's a doozy of a question. Separating from a spouse is difficult enough, but if you add in lies and theft, that compounds the pain.

In your situation, filing a police report is a good start, but it doesn't go quite far enough. To recover your reward points and to keep similar problems from arising, you're going to need to enlist the help of yourcard companies and a savvy divorce lawyer.

You should also meticulously document these unauthorized actions by your estranged wife. Let's recognize this for what it is: fraud. Although award points are notoriously hard to place a value on because they can be used in so many ways, it's not unrealistic to expect to receive about 2 cents per point in value. In this case, that's about $40,000 worth of points drained from your account.

I spoke with American Express and if there's any good news from this situation, it's that AmEx should be open to investigating and potentially restoring your points. The company couldn't comment specifically on your case, but spokeswoman Ashley Tufts said AmEx treats allegations of unauthorized transfers of Membership Reward points the same as credit card fraud. If you allege fraud, the company will open an internal investigation, and if your claim is validated, the company will restore your lost points.

"Card members are not responsible for any fraudulent or unauthorized losses on their accounts," Tufts says.

If for some reason AmEx does not restore your points, you'll still have a shot at receiving credit for them when your divorce goes through.

Rebecca DeVincent, an associate attorney at divorce firm Cordell & Cordell in Virginia, says that in many states, reward points received during a marriage can be considered marital property and are subject to division. That means that your wife could be entitled to half your points. But if she made off with more than that, you could seek to hold that against her in a divorce settlement.

The best advice, DeVincent says, is to talk with a divorce attorney in your area who would be familiar with the law in your state.

In addition, she says you should notify all of your credit card companies by phone and mail that your wife is no longer an authorized user and has a history of fraudulently accessing your accounts. Make sure the police have all the details of the security breaches, too.

This creates a paper trail that can be useful if she lies to access your accounts again. It might also prompt the card companies to take additional measures, such as changing your security questions or issuing new account information.

Unfortunately, all this requires substantial time and effort on your part, and there is probably no ironclad guarantee that a determined spouse cannot create additional havoc for you. But if you take these steps, you might be able to at least lessen the damage. Good luck.

See related: Crooks' new target: your rewards points

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Published: August 4, 2015

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Updated: 10-23-2016

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