Editorial Policy

Don't Let Your Card Fall Into the Wrong Hands

Erica Sandberg

August 24, 2012

QDear Erica,

I have a neighbor who commits identity theft fraud. He and his girlfriend went to jail for it and other charges, such as possession of materials to manufacture and sell drugs. When they were convicted, they were found with credit cards from over a 100 different people from all over the country. Now they’re back, and I’m worried about their behavior. I am 67 years old, and my adult daughter Bianca hangs out with them. I am worried about the safety of my credit because she is an authorized user and has the cards in her wallet. I am retired and cannot afford to lose anything. — Rosemary

ADear Rosemary,

I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable living so close to such unsavory types, either. Nor would I be thrilled that my child (adult or otherwise) is fraternizing with them — but that’s another topic.Ask Erica

Due to the shady background of these two people, it’s perfectly reasonable to believe that your good name and credit may be in danger. Worrying isn’t going to help you, though, so instead, take steps to protect yourself against potential problems. Here’s what I suggest you do:

Talk to your daughter: Sit down with Bianca and express your very valid concerns. Explain that you’re aware that the people she is associating with have a history of stealing credit information and that her carrying a carrying a credit card that belongs to you makes you uneasy.

If they somehow abscond with it, it will be you, not her, who will be responsible for dealing with the resulting troubles. If your daughter remains committed to spending time with them, ask for the card back. She can still use it (if you like), but it would be better to have it in your possession so you know it’s safe.

Revoke authorized user status: If Bianca refuses to relinquish the actual card? Consider canceling her as a user. You are not obligated to extend credit to anyone, including your child. She’s a grownup and can get her own account. Now, if she can’t because she’s ruined her own credit, that’s an even better reason to cease the financial relationship. The nice thing about authorized user status is that, as the account owner, you may end the arrangement at any time.

So you know I’m not being unnecessarily harsh about this, I contacted ID theft security expert Robert Siciliano and asked his opinion.

“If she is associating with these people she may have a problem herself,” Siciliano says. “The only effective way to handle this is to cancel the card and then lock up your cards or hide them when they are not on your person.”

Go paperless: I can’t tell how close these neighbors are to your actual home, but if they have access to wherever your mail is delivered, have your bills and statements sent to you electronically.

Read your statements carefully: Look for balances that are too high or charges at places you’ve never shopped. Report inaccuracies to the credit card company immediately. You will not be liable for fraudulent charges, but it’s important minimize the damage by reporting it as soon as possible.

Keep a close watch on your credit report: Identity theft is easily spotted on consumer credit reports — just check for accounts you never opened. Additionally, says Siciliano, consider a credit freeze. You can do that by calling one of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian or TransUnion) and asking for the credit freeze.

“This will protect your credit and Social Security number and help to prevent new accounts from being opened in your name,” Siciliano says.

He also recommends paying for a credit monitoring service if you can afford it. These companies will alert you to deviant behavior even before you see your statements or pull your reports.

I hope Bianca will learn to choose her friends more carefully. While people do reform, the types of crimes these particular people were involved with are too scary and dangerous for you not to proceed with extreme caution.

Got a question for Erica? Send her an email.