Husband opened cards, ran up debt in your name? It's fraud

Report it to the credit bureaus, the cops (and divorce the bum)

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, and also wrote for MSN Money, and, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs.

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Dear To Her Credit,
I need some advice. I just found out that my husband of eight years has opened two loans and two credit cards with my information. Both of these were within the past two years. I had to find out by pulling my credit report.

When I first met my husband, everything seemed fine, until one year later I found out he was $30,000 in debt and constantly opening accounts in his parents' names without their knowledge. When I found out, I gave him the ultimatum that he'd better not do that to me.

Since then, his parents paid off the whole thing, and my husband only paid them $7,000 of it. Now I find out he has done this to me. I am debating whether to file a fraudulent activity report on him and divorce him, or just divorce him and pay off what is only under my name, which will technically be considered half the debt. As of right now, there is a total debt of $75,000.

I'm trying to figure out what would be best, considering I will be moving out of the house we rent and I will also be the sole provider for our son. Help! -- Sheila


Dear Sheila,
Don't count on being able to divorce your husband and only pay what is under your name, or half of the debt, unless you report the debts as fraud.

If you are named as the primary account holder, not just an authorized user, you are responsible for the entire debt. The credit card company does not split the debt between two account holders. The bank extended credit based on the abilities of both parties to pay, and they expect one party to pay the entire balance if the other doesn't.

A total of $75,000 in debt is a terrible burden for almost anyone. It can haunt you for years to come. If you try to pay it off and find it's almost impossible, you may feel forced into bankruptcy, which would add to the tragedy. There are better ways to get out of debts you did not run up and didn't even know about.

To protect your financial future, you need to report your husband's fraud. Here's how.

First, contact one of the major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian or TransUnion), to put a fraud alert on your name. You only have to tell one agency -- it will alert the other two.

Then, contact the Federal Trade Commission and report that you've been a victim of identity theft. Call the FTC toll free at 877-IDTHEFT or 877-438-4338, or go to the FTC's Identity Theft website.

It's also important that you file a report with the local police or county sheriff. You'll need this report to prove you were the victim of identity theft. You may be hesitant to report your spouse, but in a case with such flagrant abuse, I would encourage you to do so. He may be subject to arrest, prosecution and possibly even jail time. It may be the only way to make him realize the seriousness of his crimes. It is certainly your best chance at separating yourself from the results of his crimes against you.

Notify the banks and credit card companies that fraud has been committed, that you did not open the accounts and that you are not responsible for them. Close the accounts and put a freeze on your credit. Do this for every account your husband opened without your permission.

When you file for divorce, be sure to enlist the help of a good lawyer. He should make sure that the fraudulent accounts are considered in the divorce settlement.

If you follow these steps, you can get out from the burden of the fraudulent debts your husband ran up in your name. Best of luck to you as you start a new life with your son.

See related: Why you should file a police report for card fraud, Familiar fraud: When family and friends steal your identity

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Updated: 01-20-2018