Mom opened checking, credit accounts in my name, left a mess

She left you little choice: Contact the police

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 was in the bank earlier and found out I was on Chexsystems due to an account my mother had opened in my name. With easy access to my Social Security and personal information, the account was under her control. There also seems to be a credit card that has been delinquent and sent to collections. I need help getting my score back, with a fresh start preferably. Any advice would help. Please and thank you for your time. -- Teresa


Dear Teresa,
Identity theft, even by someone you should be able to trust, is a serious crime. The first step to dealing with a crime, even one committed by a family member, is to alert the police.

Andi Wrenn, a Washington, D.C., financial counselor, says, "Start with a police report. Once that is filed, contact the bank and the reporting agency to dispute the information, and have the bank remove the negative information."

Reporting your mother's activity to the police won't be easy. "I think the hardest part with cases that involve family members, is that the person who has been financially robbed by identity theft does not want to hurt or offend the family member -- the parent in this case," says Wrenn. "I have seen many cases, and it is so sad to see a family member being used."

After you file a police report, you should place a  fraud alert on your credit reports by calling one of the three national credit bureaus. Fraud alerts can stop a thief from opening additional accounts in your name, and also contact you before any new account is opened or an existing account is changed.

You only need to notify one of the three credit bureaus to place your fraud alert. By law, that company must contact the other two within 24 hours. The three credit bureaus are Equifax, TransUnion and Experian.

You'll need to follow the process with ChexSystems as you did for the credit bureaus. ChexSystem is an organization similar to a credit bureau, except that ChexSystems only reports information about deposit accounts at banking institutions.

Tevis Verrett, President of The Note Empire LLC , says that ChexSystems is governed by the same Federal Laws as TransUnion, Equifax & Experian. Verrett says, "Invoking the power of the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the  Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, she can right herself and have the derogatory tradelines removed."

ChexSystems' website includes contact information and further information about identity theft on its website.  To avoid future accounts being opened in your name, you can place a Consumer Reported Identity Theft Security alert in your ChexSystems consumer file. With this alert in place, ChexSystems customers (banks) will be notified of the security alert whenever they inquire about you.

You should also contact the card issuer for the card your mother opened in your name. Notify the fraud department of the bank in writing.
You're not done yet! Next, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can do this online. The FTC handles your complaints about identity theft, answers questions, and takes further action as needed.

Your mother has created a huge mess for you to clean up. She may not have realized how much trouble she was causing. However, Verrett says, "Until she does the hard work, or contracts the work out, she will be a second class citizen, unable to open a checking or savings account until the derogatory information is removed."

This is a sad situation. With hard work, however, you can clean up your banking and credit reports. It's the only way to get your financial good name back, and to stay in control of your financiallife from now on.

See related: Familiar fraud: When family or friend steals your identity, Is daughter liable for shared card debt with mom?

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Updated: 03-26-2019