How to undo fraud charges when thief is a family member

If a minor in the family stole your card, work out repayment arrangements

To Her Credit columnist Sally Herigstad
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.

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Question Dear To Her Credit,
I recently reported my credit card as lost or stolen to the credit card company. The bank representative told me there were purchases made at a few department stores the same day I made the report, only a few cities away from where I live. I make it known that those were not my charges and to start the investigation process. I planned to make a police report as advised by the representative.

Now I find out that a 15-year-old family member used my credit card without my permission to make purchases of over $400. That means I’m stuck in a pickle! What do I do?

I am not going to prosecute her. We worked out a plan where she is going to work doing chores for me to pay me back. Am I going to be held legally responsible for her charges because they were unauthorized? Will the credit card company choose to pursue their investigation after I tell them it was a minor and family member who actually took and used my card to make these unauthorized purchases? What shall I do with the things she purchased? Can I go to jail for this if I assume responsibility? Please help! – Londa

Answer

Dear Londa,
Since you haven’t filed a police report, there’s no need to now. Even if you had filed a report, it wouldn’t be too late to withdraw charges. Robert Siciliano, CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com, says, “If she had, she could always tell the police that the ‘perp’ was a family member or friend. Case closed.”

You can also undo the charges dispute you made with the card company. “It wouldn't be the first time that a credit card client had made a mistake in regard to a chargeback,” says Siciliano. “There is no reason why she can’t reverse the reversed charge.”

After you call your bank and tell them there’s been a mistake, your problem is that you still have more than $400 on your credit card. Someone has to be responsible for the purchases. If you choose to withdraw the report of fraud, then you’re generally stuck with the bill. If you want to pursue the 15-year-old, then you’re off the hook, but she is not. You can’t have it both ways.

Some people think that because a minor cannot enter into a contract, that he or she cannot be held accountable for using someone’s credit card. However, entering into valid contracts and committing fraud are two different things. Being a minor does not protect a person from being charged with a crime, including the crime of fraud.

One potential solution to your immediate problem may be to have the teenager return any purchased goods, if possible. If she was afraid to suddenly show up with lots of new clothes, she may not have worn them yet. Any clothes or items hanging in the closet with tags still on should go back to the stores.

There have been cases of charges being canceled when a minor purchased online gaming tokens and other virtual items online. If some or all of the purchases were downloads, tokens, and so on, contact the online merchant.

For any remaining balance, doing chores for you to help pay you back is a good start. At least it helps her learn to pay for her mistakes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help your bank balance. This might be a good time for her to also take on some landscaping, babysitting or other chores outside your home to help you pay off your credit card bill.

One more note on the truant teenager: Everybody does something stupid sometimes. The 15-year-old in your home needs to learn and never forget that taking your card was wrong. She should be told that the consequences could be worse if it happens again. By the time she has paid for her mistakes and made things right, she should be ready to put this in the “stupid things I did when I was a kid” category and move on toward acting like a responsible young adult.

See related: Familiar fraud: When family and friends steal your identity, What to do when family members use your card without permission

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Updated: 11-24-2017