Editorial Policy

Wife Takes Husband’s Card on Shopping Spree

Erica Sandberg

July 16, 2012

Dear Erica,

I read your July 5 column answering a question from Dan. I’m another Dan in a similar predicament. My soon-to-be ex-wife, living across town with her latest lowlife boyfriend, has started charging up a storm on my account. She’s not an authorized user. She has the second copy of a card with my name on it. The bank sent it out. It has the same number and my name on it. I stuffed it away in a drawer, and she must have found it. I can’t just cut it off immediately because it’s also used for my business. She’s running up big-ticket items, and no one seems to check or care that her name isn’t Dan. Maybe it’s because we have, for the moment, the same last name. Any quick fix? — Dan

Dear Dan,

Here’s an important public service announcement for all currently and about-to-be married people: You do NOT have the legal right to use your spouse’s individually owned credit card unless you obtain clear permission from that person prior to the transaction. Thank you.

I realize that this announcement is too late to help you, since you’re already experiencing the fallout from your wife not knowing this fact. At least others will get it in time, and maybe it will stop someone from thinking they may charge in their partner’s name without asking first.

Don’t worry, though, Dan. While you’re bleeding money right now, I do have a tourniquet in my pocket that you can use to stem the charge card flow.Ask Erica

Before I hand it over, I’ll need to review the three basic account ownership designations, as they are pertinent to this discussion:

  1. Individual account. If you applied for the credit card using only your financial and credit information, and the bank issued it to you based on that data, it’s your personal property. No one may use the card without your explicit authorization. That includes your wife, children and any other relatives.
  2. Joint account. On the other hand, if you applied for the card with your wife and the bank issued it to both of you, it is a jointly held product. In this case, the two of you would have equal card access, borrowing rights and payment responsibility.
  3. Authorized user account. As an account owner, you may choose to add guest users to the mix, but you are financially liable for all charges to the account. Those people would have a card with their name on it. If your wife was such an account guest, she would have full rights to spend on the card. What’s more, she would not have to pay the credit card company for the stuff either. That means you would have been stuck paying for her boyfriend’s Aqua Velva or whatever else she’s been gifting him.

So what does all this mean? Because your wife’s use of the card doesn’t fall under any of the above categories, she has been using your card illegally. It’s pretty easy to do, especially when shopping online. All she needs are the numbers on the back and front of the card and possibly a password.

Report her to the police. She’s committing a crime that needs to be investigated.

Also, contact the credit card company and explain what’s been going on. Because she’s been fraudulently using your individual account, you should not be liable for any charges (and you may need to produce a police report to get those charges refunded). I get that you need a credit card for business purposes, but the bank can issue you a new card with a new number. This one needs to be suspended. In the interim, your wife will not be able to charge with it.

Take other precautions, too. Change all your passwords, add a fraud alert to your credit reports and file a legal separation form with the court. These steps take a little time, but should act as a barrier against future financial and credit wreckage. I’m sorry you’re going through all this.

Got a question for Erica? Send her an email.