Erica Sandberg is a prominent personal finance authority and author of “Expecting Money: The Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families.” She writes “Opening Credits,” a weekly reader Q&A column about issues for people who are new to credit, for CreditCards.com.
My mom used my SSN when I was little, but didn’t ruin my credit. Do I have to tell anyone when applying for my own accounts?
While you are not required to inform a creditor, landlord or anyone else that there is another person’s activity listed on your credit reports, it is in your best interest to make sure your files are accurate.
Dear Opening Credits,
My mother used my Social Security number when I was little. Probably because my father had ruined her credit and she had to obtain her own home for us when he left us. She did not ruin my credit in any way. But do I have to tell anyone when I’m applying if it shows up on my report? Will she get in trouble, even if she has actually given me a good credit score? Now she uses her own Social Security number, if you’re wondering. – Yesenia
This is a tough situation; not because it is hopeless, but because it’s sad. I get the sense that your mom was desperate, so she grabbed at the wrong straw. Using someone else’s Social Security number (SSN) is a form of identity theft.
At this stage, though, you say she didn’t do any damage to your credit. Don’t speculate, however. Pull all three consumer credit reports (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) online for free from annualcreditreport.com. Read them very carefully. There are four distinct sections, and it is possible to find evidence of identity theft in each:
- Identification. Your SSN, full name and any aliases, address, date of birth, and sometimes employers will be here. Any of this information might be wrong if you mom committed identity theft.
- Inquiries.If your mom applied for a loan or credit card with your identification, you’ll see a list of every product that she applied for within the past two years.
- Trade lines. This is where you will see any loans and credit cards your mother successfully opened. If she treated the accounts well by paying on time and keeping the debt low, you should appear to be a good credit risk. Yet, if there are missed payments and high debt, you look like a poor credit risk.
- Public record. In the event your mom did not pay a bill and a collection agency purchased the debt, you may find it here. If a creditor sued for nonpayment, a judgment will show up in this section, as will evidence of any foreclosure or bankruptcy.
You are not required to inform a creditor, landlord or anyone else that there is another person’s activity listed on your credit reports. However, it is in your best interest to make sure your files are accurate. Lenders and other businesses check credit reports (and credit scores that are developed from the data on them) to understand more about you. If it seems that you’ve been financially responsible when you haven’t, it’s a false scenario. And you certainly don’t want to be turned down when you would otherwise qualify. Instead, you want to get the credit products that are truly within your reach and capability.
Dispute all accounts that aren’t yours
For this reason, I urge you to clean up your reports now. Because you were a child when your mother committed the fraud, the dispute process should be relatively fast and simple. In brief, file a dispute with one of the credit reporting agencies (it will notify the others). You’ll point out your age at the time the account was applied for, granted or went into collections. It will be clear that you were underage at the time and ineligible to sign for a loan or credit card. The agency will have about 30 days to investigate, but because dates don’t lie, odds are they will remove the items from your reports without fuss.
When your credit reports are purged of any of your mother’s actions, you’ll be back to where you should be. That might mean there is nothing or very little on your credit reports, and that’s fine. At least it will be true. If you are no longer a minor, are working and have a few hundred dollars in savings to put down as collateral, you can probably get a secured credit card to start your real credit history.
It’s great that you trust that mom is in a better place now, but add a fraud alert to your credit file just in case. It will make it harder for anyone to open accounts in your name.
Finally, since your mom has used your SSN, it could cause trouble when you file your income taxes. Visit socialsecurity.gov to open a “my Social Security account,” and check to see if your earnings are correct. If it’s not, follow the steps the Social Security Administration recommends to rectify the problem.