If dear old dad steals your identity, turn him in
In no-win situation, it's wise to safeguard your credit, not your father
Dear Opening Credits,
I'm 22 years old with a wife who is expecting our first child in a few months. I applied for a job as an armored truck driver and when they ran my background check and credit report, it showed I had filed for bankruptcy and had several unpaid credit card accounts. Here's the problem: My father and I have the same name. He was the one who filed for bankruptcy, and I found out he opened several credit card accounts in my name, ran up the bills and didn't pay them back. Now, all of this is on my record and is affecting my ability to get a good job. I don't want to fill out a police report on my father. What can I do? -- Desperate Darryl in Texas
You do have a paperwork mess on your hands, and unfortunately, it's going to take some time to correct. Then there's dealing with your father.
First, deal with that employer. Explain your father's situation and if you have any proof, show it. The employer may be open to hearing your explanation, and if he or she believes you, maybe you could have another shot at that job.
Next, you have to make a choice. It's either your credit future or your father. I suggest you choose your credit future.
The credit reporting agencies have faced family name mix-ups before, so getting the bankruptcy off your report should be relatively easy. The credit cards are another matter. It's far more than a mix-up -- it's downright fraud on your father's part. More on that later.
If you dispute the fraudulent accounts with a credit reporting agency, the agency is obligated to verify the dispute with the creditor, says Roslyn Whitehurst of Experian.
"It's highly unlikely that a creditor would be willing to remove their trade line from the son's report without some proof of identity theft or at least a police report to validate that a crime occurred, and obviously that would implicate the father, who did commit a crime," Whitehurst says.
That means it's unlikely you'll be able to clear your name without risking criminal action against your dad.
While it's understandable that you don't want to get your father in trouble, this is not your fault. Your father committed fraud, and you're the victim. If you don't get this cleaned up, your father's actions will reverberate on your credit report for years, swallowing up your chance for a mortgage, a car loan, credit cards, and as you know, employment.
It's time to clean this mess up, without delay. Follow these steps:
- Get a free copy of your credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com.
- Next, mark off all the accounts that belong to your father.
- Contact the fraud departments of each of the credit bureaus directly. Explain what's happened, and ask them to attach a "fraud alert" to your report, which would notify you if anyone tries to open a new account in your name. Also ask them to attach a "victim's statement" to your report, which would give the details of your situation.
- Call each of the credit card companies to notify them of the fraud.
- Now, it's time to call the police. File a report and get copies to send to both the credit reporting agencies and the credit card companies your dad defrauded.
- Police report in hand, follow up in writing to the credit reporting agencies and the credit card companies. Identify all the fraudulent accounts and include any other documentation you have.
- Send the letters via certified mail and request a return receipt so you know when the companies received your letters.
The credit reporting agencies have 30 days to investigate your claims and remove any erroneous information, and the credit card companies are likely to investigate, too.
For the future:
- If you have a way to differentiate yourself from your dad, such as by using "Jr." after your name, use it, and use it every time you have a credit transaction.
- Ask the credit bureaus to add a letter to your file, explaining this mix-up and the outcome.
- Check your credit report once a year to make sure no new accounts have popped up.
The problem of your dad in general? It may be time to sit down with him and have a long talk.
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