It's not fraud if you lend your card out
Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and the author of “Help! I Can't Pay My Bills: Surviving a Financial Crisis.” She writes “To Her Credit,” a weekly reader Q&A column about issues involving women and credit, for CreditCards.com. She also has written for MSN Money and Bankrate.com, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs.
Dear To Her Credit,
I was dating a guy who bought me gifts and so forth all the time at first. After we'd been seeing each other a while, things got tense. He began to treat me with presents and cash, but then turn around and pull a guilt trip on me. Not too long ago, he gave me a gas card in his name and told me to fill up (about $20). He also gave me his bank ATM card, which I used to withdraw $430 for a bill and for spending money.
After I didn't spend the New Year with him, he became angry and accused me of credit card fraud. I signed the sales slips in my name and didn't hide from the camera on the ATM. I also returned the receipts to him and have text messages with his OK. Can he really do that? -- Trish
People do go to jail for credit card fraud, and they can stay there for surprisingly long periods of time. However, that usually happens after they get caught deliberately stealing credit cards from other people, making duplicate credit cards and performing other crimes. The consequences are also higher when credit card thieves get caught more than once.
Borrowing someone else's credit card, gas card or ATM card, on the other hand, is different. It's not a good idea, and I don't recommend using a friend or boyfriend's card in the future. However, I think your ex is bluffing when he says he's going to get you for credit card fraud. Using someone else's credit card with permission is not a crime. He would have to prove that you used the cards without his permission or knowledge.
Your ex was breaking the terms of the contracts he signed with his banks when he let you use his cards. Card agreements specifically state that only the person whose name is on the cards can use them. Breaking a contract is not a crime, but it does have consequences. The consequences in this case are that he is responsible for charges that you made with his knowledge and permission.
Your ex-boyfriend could so easily have done this the right way. He should have given you cash for spending money if he really wanted to help, not access to plastic you were not authorized by the bank to use. If he didn't have cash to give you and wanted you to have use of his cards, he could have called the banks and asked to have you added as an authorized user on them. That's usually quick and easy, and then there's no question about whether you had permission to use the account.
People often use each other's cards and otherwise commingle their finances with people they are not married to and, most of the time, nothing bad happens. It's like running a red light, though. Sooner or later, you'll get broad-sided. It could have been an embarrassing moment in the checkout line, if the clerk had asked for ID and yours didn't match. You could have been turned down, or the clerk could have called for security.
In your case, the generous boyfriend turned into a vindictive ex. If I were you and I could afford it, I'd pay back the old boyfriend. You're not legally obligated to repay him, but it would take away the power he thinks he has over you.
Be sure to take notes of the sequence of events, the permission he gave you to use his cards and the text messages, in case your ex-boyfriend does try to accuse you of fraud. He will probably drop the whole thing when he discovers you have evidence, especially if you offer to pay him back.
Take care of your own finances and avoid entangling them with anyone other than a spouse. If you follow that rule, no one will be able to use money to make you feel guilty or indebted to them again.
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