Matt About Money

Cable service opened in daughter’s name goes unpaid


She gave her permission, but now may be stuck with the bill

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QuestionDear Opening Credits,
My mother had asked me to put the cable bill in my name when I was around age 20 due to her not being able to put it in her name because of her own debt with the cable company. I was dumb and guilt-tripped into signing a new contract for her. Now being 25 years old and having a mother who is a long-term alcoholic with anger issues, she wants to punish me by not paying the bill. Until now, I had totally forgot it was in my name, until I was called by the cable company. As of today, the account has not yet been sent to collections, but I don’t want it to be. Can I still report this as fraud or some type of theft? – Lauren



Dear Lauren,
I’m afraid that you will be held liable for amounts owed and your credit rating will be impacted, should your mother not take immediate action. Your name is on the contract, which means the company can turn to you for payment if the debt goes delinquent. Although guilt may have prompted you to sign on the dotted line, it appears that you did take that action as a fully functioning adult. Identity theft or fraud occurs when someone opens an account using your personal information without your permission or knowledge.

That said, I’m sorry your mother is behaving terribly. You need to end this arrangement quickly. Call the cable company to explain what happened, and tell them you want to terminate this account as soon as possible. There may be a fee to escape the contract early and you could be on the hook for back bills, but go ahead and ask if they can give you a break given the circumstances. They probably won’t, but I’m a big advocate of at least trying.

If your mother doesn’t send what she owes, I strongly urge you pay. Ignoring the bill is the worst thing you can do. The cable company won’t wait too long before it sends the account to a collection agency. Then that third party collector will notify the credit reporting agencies that there is an outstanding debt, which will appear on your reports. You do not want that to happen.

As a young woman, you most likely have a lot going on in your life. You probably want to do things like secure a job or lease an apartment. Many landlords and some employers check credit reports to see if the applicant is financially responsible. If they see an account in collections, it could be held against you. If it does go that far, you may be able to offset some damage by explaining what happened in a 100-word statement in your credit report. Whoever pulls your report may see your statement, and it could have some positive influence.

Lenders, such as automobile financing or credit card issuers, are another story, though, as they depend more on credit scores to make decisions, and the 100-word-statement won’t have any impact on those numbers. A bad debt will sink scores dramatically, especially if the account has recently been assumed by the collector.

If the debt does go bad, the collector will call you to demand payment, which could be a daily occurrence. That’s not pleasant. Worse, these agencies have the right to sue consumers for an unpaid debt.

So, if you can afford to assume the final costs of this account, do so. I know this is not what you bargained for, but maybe you can inspire your mom to change her mind with some cajoling. If you have any siblings or close relatives who can help you with the debt, turn to them. You should not have to deal with this on your own if others can assist you. I wish you the best of luck.

See related:Familiar fraud: When family members steal your identity, How to say no to a loved one’s money requests

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