If you suspect card fraud, the best way to find out is through a credit report
Dear Opening Credits,
I have power of attorney for my mother who is 86 and whose mind isn’t always there. I have tried getting her credit report online, but I don’t know the answers to some of the questions and she is not able to help me. How do I get around this? I do have some family members who appear to be using her credit card(s), but I can’t even find out what or how many she may have to stop this. No phone numbers are listed to call and explain these issues to the credit report providers, so I’m stuck. – Jeff
Your mother should be protected against financial abuse. Whether people are using her current batch of credit cards or are opening new cards and loans in her name, you can do a lot to end the fraud.
I’m glad that you have already been designated with power of attorney, because you’ll need the paperwork to access your mother’s credit report. As you noticed, it’s not easy to use the online credit request form to access another person’s reports, nor can you conduct the transaction by phone if your mother is unable to provide you with the information you need or make the request herself.
The only way left to get your mother’s files is to mail in your request. I reached out to Experian, one of the three major credit reporting agencies, to get the exact steps. According to the company, you’ll need to write a letter explaining that you have power of attorney for your mom, and that you’re asking for her credit report because you suspect she is a victim of fraud. This way you can get her report for free. You should also write to each of the big three credit bureaus in order to get a complete picture of everything that is being recorded.
In your letters, include her identifying information, such as her first and last name, mailing address, Social Security number and date of birth.
Sign it with your name, address and phone number, then send it along with a copy of the power of attorney to each of the three credit reporting agencies:
P.O. Box 4500
Allen, TX 75013
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19022
P.O. Box 4500
Atlanta, GA 30374
All the accounts that are in your mother’s name will be listed in the trade lines section of her credit reports. Look for loans and lines of credit that you don’t think she applied for and incorrect balances on the cards that are legitimately hers. Check the inquiry section to find out if someone has been pursuing credit in her name. Even if loans or credit cards were rejected, evidence of the attempt to get credit will be there.
If your suspicions are confirmed, lock up your mom’s credit report right away:
- Contact the police to report identity theft and get a police report number.
- Write to the credit reporting agencies again to have a seven-year extended fraud alert placed on your mom’s files. Once in place, lenders will have to take special precautions to make sure the applicant is really your mother. For extra protection, you may have her credit reports made inaccessible with a security freeze. Lenders will not be able to check her file to gauge her creditworthiness, thus shutting down any new accounts or limiting increases without you first lifting the freeze.
- Notify the credit issuers to dispute the fraudulent cards and transactions. They will investigate the matter, and during that time will temporarily refund the charges via a credit (made permanent if they side with you and your mom). The issuers also will close your mom’s accounts so the crooks can no longer use them, and open new ones, sending your mother new cards with updated numbers.
All this will take time and effort, but the result will be worth it. Anyone taking advantage of your mother should be stopped.
See related: How to detect and prevent elderly financial abuse, 7 times when it’s OK to check someone else’s credit report