Editorial Policy

Son's Drug Addiction Keeps Mom in Card Debt

Erica Sandberg

November 16, 2012

QDear Erica,

My name is Maria and Jonathan is my 20-year-old son. He is addicted to prescription medication and street drugs. Jonathan has lied to me and stolen from me for more than two years now, and, just recently, he stole my credit card. He took out more than $3,000 in cash. He has also used it to buy things that he resells on Craigslist to support his habit.

I now owe more than $10,000 on the card and that’s my limit, I’m done. The bank has closed the card because I’ve been unable to pay. I haven’t made a payment in two months because it’s either that or my house. Jonathan is not working, so he lives with me. I cannot and will not contact the police because that is his greatest fear. What do you advise I do about the credit card debt now? — Maria

AHi Maria,

I can’t imagine being in your position. As a mother, you want your child to be safe, happy and successful.Ask Erica

While I can’t help with the drug problem (other than to point you to the nearest Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meeting, where you’ll find support and learn how to contend with an addict in a healthy way), I can provide you with information on that debt issue.

Unfortunately, though, you’ve already clipped my wings with the advice I would have given. You see, besides being an addict, your son has stolen from you. He used your credit card without your permission, and because of that, he committed a crime. Normally I would recommend that you file a police report and then contact your credit card company to let them know that your card has been illegally used. If you were to do so, you would be absolved of responsibility for his fraudulent charges.

Can I convince you to take that action? I wish I could. It’s the right thing to do. Sure, Jonathan is afraid of the law, but that’s because he’s on the wrong side of it.

If you don’t alert the authorities, you are stuck with the bill. As far as your credit card company knows, it was you who racked up that big balance, so, naturally,  it is turning to you — the account owner — for payment. This situation has also caused your credit rating to tank, blocked access to the card’s benefits and put your home (and possibly other essential expenses) in peril. You need to deal with this matter.

Your choices are:

  1. Pay the debt. It might be a struggle, but you may be able to bring more money in so you can satisfy your creditor. Reduce your expenses, work more or sell things to bring the balance down.
  2. Don’t pay the debt. If there’s no way you can pay, you’ll have to prepare for the consequences. Credit damage is already happening, but it will worsen over time. The credit card company or debt collection company may sue you, and if it wins (highly likely), you will have to pay. A judgment will be placed against you, and you may have to deal with wage garnishment.
  3. Reconsider turning your son in. He might not go to jail, but you probably will be able to get out from under those illegitimate balances.

Whatever you decide, contact the credit bureaus right away and flag your file for fraud. You won’t need a police report to do that, and it will help to prevent your son from opening accounts in your name in the future. Also, remove all of your other credit and personal identification cards from your wallet or home, have your statements arrive online only and change your computer and banking passwords.

Got a question for Erica? Send her an email.