ID thief may pay bills on stolen card, but needs to be turned in

To Her Credit columnist Sally Herigstad
Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and the author of "Help! I Can't Pay My Bills: Surviving a Financial Crisis" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). She writes "To Her Credit," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues involving women, credit and debt, for, and also wrote for MSN Money, and, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs.

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Dear To Her Credit,
If someone is using my identity, but keeping up with the payments, shouldn't I still report them? Wouldn't they still be stealing and benefiting from my name?  -- Yvette


Dear Yvette,
Yes and yes! You should report this immediately. Not only is this person stealing and benefiting from your name, but the use of your identity can cause you, the banks and other innocent parties all kinds of problems in the future.

Let's start with the premise that someone who is willing to purposely steal someone else's name, Social Security number and other information to get credit is not bound by a high moral code. This person probably doesn't have access to great credit or she wouldn't be using yours -- which means she is not good at paying bills in the long term. Eventually, she'll stop paying or run up more debt than he can handle. That's when the collectors may look you up and expect payment. By then, your credit history may be overwhelmed with accounts, late payments and other negative information from your identity thief.

The thief may not stop with opening credit card accounts in your name. Once she is established as you, she can run up hospital and other medical bills in your name, file for your tax refund and see how many of your financial accounts she can get into. Using your identity for a small account may be just a test stage in a larger plan to take your name, your money and anything else she can get her hands on, before she moves on to the next victim.

Besides, having someone out there calling themselves "Yvette" and charging things in your name is just a little creepy, don't you think?

If you knowingly allow other people to use your identity, perhaps because it doesn't seem like it's hurting anything if they keep up with the payments, you could be construed as being party to the crime. When they stop making payments at some point, or when they move on to bigger targets, like emptying your bank account, you'll have a harder time undoing all the damage.

You owe it not just to yourself, but to the credit card companies and other lenders who are being taken in by the thief, to report this crime immediately. Here's how:

1. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports to stop thieves from opening additional cards in your name. You only need to call one of these three national credit bureaus:

  • Equifax, 800-525-6285
  • TransUnion, 800-680-7289
  • Experian, 888-397-3742

2. File a police report with your local police station. This is very important -- don't skip this step. You'll need a copy of the report to prove you were a victim of identity theft crime.

3. Contact the fraud department of the card issuer for which the thief was using the card. You should also contact them in writing, and provide a copy of the police report.

4. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, using its online complaint form.

No breach of security, including unauthorized charges on a card or identity theft, is ever OK. Take any suspicion of identity theft seriously to take good care of yourself and your credit.

See related: Why you should file a police report for card fraud

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Updated: 01-22-2019