Editorial Policy

What to do if relative is misusing your credit cards

Erica Sandberg

March 8, 2016

QHi Erica,

I think my brother who is on drugs is using my credit card. What should I do? We live together at my parents’ house. I’m here because I’m a college student (sophomore) and wanted to save money. My parents are no help. They protect him over me, and they always have. Now my credit is ruined. What can I do? Please help. Thanks, Erica. — Landon

ADear Landon,

My first reaction is that you have to get the heck out of that home — and quickly. Not only does it seem to be an emotionally unhealthy place, but your finances might be in peril.

However, I recognize that the “just move” solution isn’t easy. You need an action plan that has both short-and long-term elements. Here’s help on both of those points:

What to do now

Check your credit card statements. Log on to your credit card issuer’s website and review all of your credit card statements carefully. Do this line by line, beginning at least a couple of months before you suspect that your brother may have committed fraud by using your card.

Call the police. If you identify any charges that you did not personally make or authorize, call the police (non-emergency number for your local station) to file a report. You’ll need the police report when you dispute the charges with the issuer and the credit reporting agencies. It is highly unlikely your brother will be hauled off to jail (or even contacted by an officer), since most credit card fraud is a low priority crime. However, if you want the authorities to take action, press the matter. Explain that you know who used your card fraudulently, and that you want an officer to investigate. With enough pressure, the police should send an officer to meet you.

Call the credit issuer’s fraud department. Dispute the charges. The card will be deemed compromised, and the account will be locked until you’re reissued a new card with a fresh set of numbers.

You should not be held responsible for your brother’s charges, and your balance should be recalculated to reflect the amount you alone owe. The issuer will send the corrected information to the credit reporting agencies, which is important because credit utilization is one of the major factors in a credit score. If the debt is too high in relation to your credit limit, your score will drop.

Call the credit reporting agencies. Get copies of your credit reports from each of the three largest credit reporting agencies — TransUnion, Equifax and Experian — at annualcreditreport.com. Review your each one, checking for loans and credit cards that you did not open. If you spot any, file a dispute with one of the reporting agencies (it will notify the others), and then contact the lenders and tell them that you did not apply for the account and to cancel it immediately. Again, you won’t be held liable for the charges. That police report number will come in handy during this process.

While you’re dealing with the credit reporting agencies, be sure to put a fraud alert on your credit file to help guard against future identity theft. Lenders will have to check to see if it’s really you before granting new loans and credit lines, as well as increasing credit limits. A fraud alert initially lasts  90 days, but you may choose one that remains for seven years.

Another option is to “freeze” your credit file, which prevents lenders from accessing your reports. Without seeing your credit history and rating, lenders will have a hard — if not impossible — time granting a loan or credit line. To do put a credit freeze on your file, contact each credit reporting company (credit freeze fees vary by state, but are minimal):

What to do later

Because your parents aren’t being helpful, take steps to step away from them. True, you may be saving a lot of money by living in their home, but you’re risking your credit, security and happiness. With your brother in the house, you’ll always have to hide your wallet and protect your valuable possessions.

Consider living with a bunch of other college students instead. Pursue getting a part-time job so you can pay your own way. Dream and prepare for a better future. There is a better way.

And please reach out for help. You’re not alone. Nar-Anon, a 12-step program for families and friends of addicts may be just what you need now. In a group like this, you’ll find support, understanding and guidance. And you’ll realize many people your age have similar family life issues, such as being a victim of identity theft.

Got a question for Erica? Send her an email.


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