Safeguard accounts from card-stealing family member

Opening Credits columnist Eric Sandberg
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

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Question Dear Opening Credits,
  My 12-year-old little sister tried to buy a $450-$550 iPhone 6+ at Wal-Mart’s website with my credit card. What should I do? I’m not talking to her because I’m disappointed in her, and she hasn't said she’s sorry yet or even spoken with me since this incident. What should I do? The order didn’t go through, but my little sister has done this before about three years ago when her older brother left his credit card information in the computer. She didn’t know it, but she was actually buying things. – Sussy


Dear Sussy,
Giving the silent treatment without a serious discussion about your sister’s improper behavior may not  stop her from trying to use your credit card again. She is clearly a repeat offender. Therefore, I also recommend a more practical solution to the problem: Shut her (and anyone else) out of your account for good.

It sounds like you may have stored your credit card information on the Wal-Mart website. Doing so may be convenient for you, since all you have to do to complete a purchase is hit the “order” button. However, unless you are the only person who has access to your computer, you shouldn’t keep the account on file. When you want to buy something, key in the credit card numbers on the site each time. Yes, it’s more work, but it’s also safer. You should also change any login passwords to retailer sites and to your email account to keep your sister out.

To update your account settings on Wal-Mart’s website:

  1. Go online and log into your account.
  2. Click the button titled, “Billing Address and Credit Card.”
  3. You’ll see your credit card on file. Now erase it by clicking “Delete.”

And you’re done.

Or are you? If your sister is as persistent as she sounds, it’s possible she will go to greater lengths to get what she wants. So protect all of your credit and debit cards, as well as any cash you may have on hand. Make sure your wallet is always in your possession, or lock it up in a drawer or safe when you don’t need it.

Know that if your sister does somehow manage to use your credit card, it is unlikely that you’ll be held responsible for the charges. If you call the issuer quickly to report unauthorized purchases, the retailer should reverse the charges. Any items bought with a stolen card should be returned, too.

Tell your parents about what your sister has been doing – if you haven’t already.  Your sister is displaying behavior that needs to be addressed. It should not be up to you to punish her – that’s something your parents should do.

As horrible as it is for such a young girl to casually steal from family members, it will be worse if she does it to a stranger one day when she is an adult. If she manages to charge $1,000 or more (the actual amount depends on the state, but it’s usually about $1,000) on someone else’s account, it is considered a felony. Then if she’s caught and the victim presses charges, she could face a conviction.

Your sister needs to experience some consequences for her actions. That’s up to your parents to decide on what to do. I would warn her that if she does it again, you’ll report her to the police. Your sister is too young to go to jail, but you may be able to persuade a police officer to come out and have a harsh chat with her.

Good luck! And update any account settings online now to reduce the chances of this happening again.

See related: Familiar fraud: When family members steal your identity, Why you should file a police report for card fraud

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Updated: 12-09-2018