Credit card charges made by minors are invalid
When underage kids steal your card, the charges don't stick
By Sally Herigstad | Published: March 12, 2010
To Her Credit
Dear To Her Credit,
My 12-year-old son, who has Asperger syndrome, fraudulently used our credit card to order a go-cart online. It cost over $3,000. The delivery company even called him on his cell phone, and he left school to sign for it.
When we discovered this, we notified our credit card company that it was fraud, and they charged it back. But the sporting goods company protested the charge-back, and now they have charged it to our credit card. The go-cart is still sitting in our driveway.
Are we liable for this charge, and how do we get the go-cart removed? We sent two certified letters with no response. Thank you. -- Debra
Children with Asperger syndrome tend to be highly intelligent and capable of figuring out how to get what they want. Unfortunately, like most children, they don't always think things through to their natural conclusion. Did your son think you wouldn't notice $3,000 on your credit card bill? (Kids often have an inflated idea of Mom's and Dad's financial resources, but that's a lot of money!) Did he try to hide the go-cart behind the flower bed? Just where did he think this plan was headed?
In fact, unless your backyard is a lot bigger than mine, where did he think the go-cart was going? Was he planning to drive it to school?
That's why minors are protected by law from some of the consequences of their actions. They don't necessarily have the maturity to see ahead like adults do. Asperger syndrome or not, the transaction your 12-year-old son made was not valid.
Nevertheless, a go-cart that was obtained through an invalid transaction is sitting in your driveway. Your son can't be allowed to keep it, or he will learn the wrong lessons from this. And the sporting goods company should have a chance to retrieve their cart and sell it to someone else. Georg Finder, independent credit evaluator, says, "I suggest that the parents send a certified mail letter of notification to the go-cart company putting them on notice that if they do not arrange for retrieval of the cart by a specific date, the property will be considered abandoned and liquidated."
You'll need to keep the go-cart in new, clean condition and cooperate with the delivery company for its return.
Finder says, "Unless the go-cart company arranges to come and get the product within 30 days, the recipient can liquidate the product. A case could be made that the liquidation funds can be kept by the recipient."
The sporting goods company should not add negative marks to your credit reports because of this transaction. If it does, you have recourse. According to Finder, "The parents could take the sporting goods company to court for violation of the credit charge and any subsequent derogatories that appear on their credit reports (collection accounts, etc.)."
You'll want to check your credit report more than once to make sure it hasn't been dinged.
Now that you know your son is capable of using your credit cards on the sly, it's time to start storing your cards more securely. Don't leave them lying by the computer or anyplace else unattended. If your son shows no remorse for essentially stealing $3,000 from you, I recommend you no longer keep your purse in the coat closet or your wallet on the nightstand. Keep your credit cards, cash and account numbers someplace safe from now on. This isn't such a bad idea anyway -- children aren't the only people who have access to our homes. By keeping your valuables safe, you'll prevent other people from being tempted and this kind of problem from happening again.
See related: Minors seeking a credit card will need a helping hand from parents, Clear a minor of responsibility for card debt in five steps, Who's liable for a minor's medical debt?, Minor's credit card contract raises legal, ethical questions
Meet CreditCards.com's reader Q&A expertsDoes a personal finance problem have you worried? Monday through Saturday, CreditCards.com's Q&A experts answer questions from readers. Ask a question, or click on any expert to see their previous answers.
- Q&A: Do I have to pay US debts if I now live abroad? – It’s tempting to just ignore debts when they are on the other side of the world, but if you were ever to return to the U.S., your credit score would be toast ...
- How to undo fraud charges when thief is a family member – When you don't want to file a police report on a family member who stole your card, you're stuck with the responsibility of paying the bill ...
- Q&A: Is shared CD at risk if I file for bankruptcy? – If listed only as a beneficiary, then no; but if jointly owned, perhaps ...