When a family member forges your name on credit card applications, you have two choices: Pay the bill or prosecute, says Maturing Loans columnist Alan Klayman.
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Dear Maturing Loans,
I am 72 years old, and had immaculate credit until about two years ago. Without my knowledge or consent, my wife (now ex), forged my signature on many credit card applications and made cash withdrawals using my forged name.
I did not realize this until I received my credit report. Seven credit card companies have filed action and most had already written off the accounts. My credit score is ruined. I was never personally contacted by any of the credit card companies concerning these accounts or balances and had no reason to believe they existed. My ex-wife short-stopped all mail and phone calls. She now lives on Social Security benefits for mental health and is a gambling addict.
This all occurred within a year prior to the divorce action. Do I have any recourse? As a footnote, my ex-wife has filed for bankruptcy for the credit card debts that she placed in her name only, but when companies started denying her credit, she used my forged signatures to open other accounts. — Stuart
Your situation goes past the point of what to do about your credit score and runs into some legal and possibly law enforcement issues. Since there may be other readers who have had similar circumstances, I want to help you address this situation.
First, know your rights as a credit cardholder. Second, get a lawyer. Third, put the necessary steps into action.
Starting with your rights as a credit cardholder, please review the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act. You should report any debt collector issues to the Federal Trade Commission and to your state attorney general’s office. Your attorney general’s office can help you determine your rights as many states have different laws. You should also seek legal counsel. If you believe your rights have been violated, the Fair Debt Collection Practices act states that: “You have the right to sue a collector in a state or federal court within one year from the date the law was violated. If you win, you may recover money for the damages you suffered plus an additional amount up to $1,000. Court costs and attorney’s fees also can be recovered.”
Make sure you have copies of all correspondence documented with dates and times of all letters and phone calls with credit card companies and all other debtors and creditors.
I asked the opinion of Jane Lessner, a partner with the law firm of Fox Rothschild in Philadelphia, whose practice primarily involves domestic relations matters. Now keep in mind this attorney’s direction is based on limited information. You need to seek legal counsel in the state where you reside.
Lessner made the following suggestions:
- Contact local authorities, federal authorities or both so that if the statute of limitations has not run out on your ex-wife’s actions, criminal prosecution can be instituted by the proper authorities. This may be important in order to recover from any of the financial institutions.
- After consultation with a lawyer, you may want to consider suing to recover the money, but because of the bankruptcy, this may not be fruitful.
- A letter should go to all the credit companies, telling them that the ex-wife’s activities were actively hidden from you and that she had no permission to make these transactions. If you file a criminal complaint or if there is police action, that information should also be given in the letter. The credit reporting companies should be instructed to send a copy of the letter to all individuals and entities that inquire as to your creditworthiness.
- Depending upon the entities that honored your wife’s fraudulent transactions, you may be able to recover from them (although probably not against a credit card company).
Again, Lessner’s direction is valued, but you need to seek proper legal counsel in the state in which you reside.
Stuart, here is the mailing address for the three credit reporting companies:
- Equifax: Equifax Credit Information Services Inc., P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374
- Experian: Experian, P.O. Box 2104, Allen, TX 75013-2104
- TransUnion: TransUnion, P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19022-2000
Make sure you contact each one in writing with a full explanation of the situation. You should be able to get this unraveled and set straight. I know it is going to take some work, but it can be done.
See you back here next week to answer more questions.