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 CreditCards.com, and also wrote for MSN Money, Interest.com and Bankrate.com, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs.
Dear To Her Credit,
I recently applied for a credit card and it was sent to the wrong address. I put two addresses on file, one being mine and the other being my dad’s. I told the issuer to send the card to my address, but they sent it to my dad’s.
Well, without telling me, my dad used my card. I know that is fraud, but I don’t know what to do. He bought a plane ticket with his name, the same last name as mine, and he spent a lot of money.
Should I just call and report this as fraud? My dad is not picking up the phone, so there is no way of coming to terms with him. Besides, I have no money to pay this balance. What should I do? – Krstina
Your dad knew it was your credit card. He knew he had no right to use it. He had no excuse to use it on airplane tickets and whatever else he bought in his little spending spree. And now he is not answering your phone calls because that is easier than admitting what he did and finding a way to make it right.
People seldom start this kind of behavior overnight. For him to so blatantly steal and use your card, and for you to believe that he could, means he probably has a history of selfish and unreliable actions.
He could strike again – maybe next time by opening a card in your name. Or maybe next time he’ll steal from your siblings or other relatives.
You have to stop him. To protect yourself and make him think twice about striking again, you need to report the unauthorized use of your card as fraud.
Step 1: File a police report
The procedure for reporting fraud when you strongly suspect the perpetrator is a relative is exactly the same as if you had no idea who used your card. You need to start by filing a police report.
The police report is important for establishing that a crime took place. You don’t have to tell your father that you know he is the thief. Your card was compromised, so you called the police.
Step 2: Set a fraud alert, consider a credit freeze
You should place a 90-day fraud alert on your credit. You can do this by notifying one of the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian or TransUnion). The bureau you contact will alert the other two bureaus.
A fraud alert lets lenders know when they check your credit that they should take extra steps to make sure you are really you – not an identity thief.
You may want to consider instituting a credit freeze instead of a fraud alert with each of the credit bureaus, which can last up to seven years or until you remove it, depending on your state law. Read “How credit freezes work, what they cost” for more details.
Step 3: Dispute the charges
Most importantly, you should dispute all fraudulent charges on your account. Call the number on the back of your credit card, or find the fraud section of your credit card company website. You will need your police case file number.
After you report the fraudulent charges, the bank will cancel your old card and give you a new one, so if your dad still has your card or the numbers from your card, they won’t do him any good.
Be sure to check for recurring charges on your card billing statement every month, even after you get a new card. Banks sometimes update account numbers so recurring charges can go through, so if your dad subscribed to internet or other services, you’ll want to catch them and have them reversed.
If, by chance, you added your dad to your new card as an authorized user, then you need to cancel his card immediately. The bad news: As the primary account holder, you are liable for his charges since you authorized him to be on your card account.
I don’t know why you would have added him, but on the off chance you did, there is no recourse but to cancel his card and figure out how you or the both of you will repay the debt. Authorized users are not liable for charges made to the account.
You might be surprised how many people have had close relatives steal their identity or otherwise compromise their finances.
It’s one thing when it’s a naive teenager using mom’s credit card, however. A grown man using his daughter’s card is very disturbing.
As difficult as it may be, I believe you should put a stop to it now. By doing so, you are protecting your finances and good name, and learning to stand up for yourself whenever you need to in the future.
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