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.
Dear Opening Credits,
I received four uninvited mailed solicitations to open a Visa credit card. A card was included in each mailing. I threw the first three away, cutting up each card. The fourth mailing was a card, and included a statement which told me I owed $81.95. I cut up the card, but I kept the statement as material for proof of attempt to defraud. This was preposterous – I had never activated the card! Yet another statement arrived that showed I had made purchases of $65.32, and was subject to a minimum payment of $1.36 interest due. I have never activated nor used any of the four cards. How is this sort of scam allowed to exist? – John
Most credit card issuers send prospective customers invitations to apply for an account, and that is what those solicitations probably were. They often include sample cards. All you have to do is complete and mail in the paperwork.
If you’re qualified, the issuer will send you a card that you can activate and use. Unfortunately, it seems as if someone intercepted one of these letters and applied for the card in your name, committing identity theft. Credit card fraud followed when he began to charge with it.
So why did you get the bill but the thief got the goods? Eva Casey-Velasquez, president of the Identity Theft Resource Center, offers a theory. “My assumption here is that the person who obtained the information, maybe from the solicitation, did apply but wasn’t clever enough to change the mailing address,” says Velasquez. “That’s why the victim is getting the statements.”
The thief is probably buying things in stores or charging services that don’t need to be mailed. So far, the charges are low, but that’s normal. Crooks often test out the cards by making small charges in the beginning, as they may fall under the radar for a while. Neither you nor the credit card issuer might detect something is amiss until the balances get big.
It’s good that you kept the statement, but what you should have done is taken action as soon as you received it.
“Long periods of time without fraud being detected can result in worse damage,” says Velasquez. “The thief will make additional purchases and possibly open more cards.” So don’t wait a moment longer.
Here is who you need to contact now and what you need to do:
- Federal Trade Commission. Report the identity theft using this form.
- Local police department. Call the non-emergency police number for your area and explain that you want to report the crime of identity theft and credit card theft. Tell the police you’ve already completed the FTC form and now need a police report number.
- Pull your credit reports. Pull your credit reports for free at AnnualCreditReport.com for each of the credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Experian and Equifax). You should see this fraudulent account, but there might be others. Make a note of anything that is not correct.
- Credit reporting agency. You want to have all fraudulent accounts removed from your reports. You can either dispute them by using one of the agency’s online forms, which is fast and easy, but does require you to agree to an arbitration clause. To preserve your right to argue your case before a jury or join in a class-action lawsuit, mail your dispute documents. Include a letter explaining what’s wrong and a copy of the credit report with the incorrect information clearly highlighted. Make and keep copies of all mailed documents.
P.O. Box 4500
Allen, TX 75013
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374
Consumer Dispute Center
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
- Credit card issuer. Call the credit card issuer and any other lenders showing up on your credit report that are showing fraudulent activity. They will close the accounts, and you will not be liable for those debts.
- Credit reporting agency. Visit one of the three credit bureaus online and add a seven-year fraud alert to your file. That agency will notify the other two. Once placed, any new credit card issuer should verify your identity before granting the account.
If this seems like a lot of work, it is. But if you want to be absolved of fraudulent charges and prevent more accounts from being opened in your name, it’s what you need to do.
Oh, one more thing. Consider putting an end to those preapproved offers for credit. Visit OptOutPrescreen.com to remove yourself from these solicitations.
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.