Will fraudulent use of mom's card jeopardize her J-1 visa?

Opening Credits with Eric 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 CreditCards.com.

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I used my mom's card without her permission and she reported it as fraud. She's here in the U.S. on a J-1 visa. Will we get deported?

People living here on J-1 visas are at risk of having their status revoked if they commit certain crimes, but the offensives need to be both substantiated and serious.
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Dear Opening Credits,
I am 13 years old. I used my mom’s credit card, and the transaction is already completed. She called to change her credit card as she didn’t know that I had used her credit card. Yesterday she received a call from a fraud team. I told my mom what I did, and mom told me that she will be investigated. She is on a J-1 or a J-2 visa and she brought us here to the U.S. Will this affect her visa? Will we get deported even though she's not the one at fault? Can we stop the investigation and not have a criminal record? Will my mom go to jail? – Fiona

Dear Fiona,
I can only imagine the sense of panic you felt when your mother got the call from the card issuer’s fraud department. Regret is understandable. It is absolutely wrong to use someone’s credit card without that person’s permission. It’s not just a criminal act; it’s a rotten thing to do to the account owner. As you’re now aware, your mom has to take steps to clean up the mess. Never do this again.

In the meantime, here’s what you should know and do.

Your mother is living in the United States on a J-1 visa, which is usually issued to professors and scholars. (Family members who came with her, including you, are on the J-2 visas.)  She is lawfully residing in the country, so she is not in an inherently precarious position with respect to her residency.

Yes, people living here on such visas are at risk of having their status revoked if they commit certain crimes, but the offensives need to be both substantiated and serious. These can include espionage, firearm crimes and many drug offenses. Credit card fraud may be troublesome for J-1 or J-2 visa holders, but it has to be pretty extreme.

For example, in 2017, Fan Xia, a Chinese scientist on a J-1 visa at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee was accused of participating in a $300,000 IRS/gift card scam, which jeopardized his visa status. Obviously, this is pretty different from your case. Your mother didn’t do anything wrong, so she should be safe.  

I spoke with Ana Ochoa Cohen, a Washington, D.C.- based immigration attorney about your situation. She believes your fears of deportation are unfounded.

“If the mother is in legal status, no one is going to go after her,” Cohen says. “A mere accusation of a crime isn’t enough. It needs to be a conviction and the crime must be punishable with at least one year of prison time. Petit crimes, misdemeanors, etc., don’t matter in these cases.”

Additionally, your mom certainly won’t go to jail for a crime that you did.


Tip: If you use a someone else's card without permission, it can be reported as fraud. However, the sooner you come clean with the card owner and make restitution, you can avoid the risk of being pursued for the debt by the card issuer's fraud department and the authorities.

Your mother needs to contact the card issuer and explain what happened. The fraud investigation should be dropped, but that won’t erase the charge.

You need to help your mom pay for what you charged. If you bought a tangible item with the card and you can return it for the full value, do so immediately. Or, if you have savings, reimburse your mom. If you don’t have any savings, work out a repayment arrangement with your mom by either doing chores or picking up part-time work, such as dog walking or baby sitting.

Repairing your reputation with your mother will take time and effort. I suggest you do what it takes to assure her that your life of credit card crime is over.

See related: How to undo fraud charges when the thief is a family member, Can a minor be sued for defaulted credit card debt?

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Updated: 03-22-2018