Mystery bill may signal error, memory failure or fraud
Dear Credit Wise,
I have received a bill from a Discover credit card, and I have never owned one. The bill is $2,375. -- Alicia
Receiving a mystery bill on a credit card that you have never owned is something you can't ignore. You need to find out what you can about this account as soon as possible. It could signal an error, a memory failure -- or fraud.
Start by going to annualcreditreport.com. There, you can pull a copy of your credit report from each of the three largest credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). If you have not requested your reports for the 2015 calendar year, these reports will all be free.
Once you have your reports in hand, examine them carefully for any reference to a Discover credit card account. Because the bill you received shows a substantial balance of $2,375, it should show up on your credit report. If the account is listed, it will state when it was opened. If it is several years old, it could be that you simply forgot about the account. If it is new, you could be the victim of identity theft. If this account is not reflected on any of your reports, it could be that the statement was sent to you in error.
So what's next?
Every scenario will probably require a call to Discover's 800 number, which will be listed on the statement you received. If the account does not show up on your report, explain to the representative that you believe the bill was sent to you in error because you do not now, nor have ever had, a Discover card. Ask that your name be removed from the account immediately.
Should you find a new account that you are certain you, or someone close to you, did not open, you need to take immediate steps to shut the card down because you may have had your identity stolen. When you call, ask to speak to their fraud division. Explain the situation in a clear, concise manner and ask to have the account closed immediately. You will need to file a police report as well. This will help you in your next step, which is to place a fraud alert with one of the three credit bureaus, which will inform the others.
Finally, if you see that the account is a few years old, it is likely that the account is, in fact, yours. Unpaid accounts more than 7 years old will drop off your credit report, but this does not mean that you no longer owe the debt. It simply means that if you are sued over it, you can have the suit dismissed if you invoke the statute of limitations defense. If you are close to that seven-year mark, it may be that this is a last-ditch effort to get the account paid before resorting to the courts. Be advised that you could be sued and have a judgment placed against you. Depending on the state you live in, this could result in a wage garnishment. Now is the time to work out a workable payment arrangement that will take care of the debt.
Be wise with your credit!
Meet CreditCards.com's reader Q&A experts
Does a personal finance problem have you worried? Monday through Saturday, CreditCards.com's Q&A experts answer questions from readers. Ask a question, or click on any expert to see their previous answers.
- If health problems strike, ask for hardship rate reduction – Avoid a settlement if you can; its credit score impact lingers ...
- Before you charge, have a plan to pay off your debt – Yes, you can buy now, pay later. But know the consequences ...
- Deciding whether to settle a credit card debt – Do you have a lump sum, and are you ready for a credit score hit? ...