I need her family to stop abusing her and her credit cards.
April 10, 2009 6:09 PM   Subscribe

Jane's mother is racking up enormous charges on credit cards in Jane's name, completely against Jane's consent. How can she stop this? Difficulty: No consequences for Jane's mother.

I'll try to phrase this as well as I can. I'm writing this for a friend, who recently moved away from a very unhappy situation at home with her parents. Having come from a bad homelife myself, I feel for her and really want to help her heal and do the best that she can now that she's...well, free. However, her parents are taking advantage of her financially, and while they're not evil people, what they're doing to her is Very Wrong and there has to be a way to stop this.

My understanding is that the credit card fraud started a few years ago, as soon as Jane turned 18, and that her mother has charged thousands of dollars to cards in Jane's name that Jane never opened or even KNEW about. After fighting her on this for a very long time and using miles of emotional blackmail, Jane's mother finally agreed to stop charging to the cards, opening new cards, and so forth. Except she hasn't. In Jane's words, "All I know is that a credit card/checkbook was sent in my name, to my parents' home, and that she got a hold of it, and that she used it to get $450. This is illegal because if checks are involved, she forged my signature somehow." This sounds baaad to me, because checks mean cash advances, and cash advances mean high interest rates (higher than just credit card purchases) on balances that neither Jane nor her parents can afford to pay down.

Jane wants to stop this without credit card companies holding her mother responsible for committing fraud. "Protect the abuser" comes to mind, but at the same time, I understand that legal repercussions will be costly to the family. To give (even more) background, I'll say that her father suffered a heart attack this year, so he, her mother, and her mentally disabled older brother are living at home solely on the mother's income and some public assistance they're receiving.

My suggestions are:
- Close the existing credit accounts (my understanding is that she'll still be able to make payments towards the balances even after closing the accounts)
- Opt out of receiving credit card offers via optoutprescreen.com

My overall question is, how can she protect herself against a woman who knows all of the identifying pieces of information that a creditor would request, WITHOUT reporting fraudulent activity?

In Massachusetts, what are the steps to freeze her credit profile and prevent new lines of credits from being opened? What measures would be in place to keep Jane's mother from simply posing as Jane to lift the freeze? Will this end up biting Jane in the ass if she needs to get student loans in the fall?

Any advice on how to handle the situation would be very much appreciated.
posted by lizzicide to Work & Money (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The mother deserves consequences. That said, perhaps your friend could legally change her own name, but still generally go by her old name? That way the mother would never be able to find or access those accounts.
posted by hermitosis at 6:13 PM on April 10, 2009

Your friend can freeze all of her credit reports; see Bankrate for the procedure. However, this means that Jane won't be able to use her credit reports, either.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:15 PM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: thomas j wise, thanks for the Bankrate link. Unfortunately, unless I'm missing something, it seems that Massachusetts is not on the list of states where this would be a possibility.
posted by lizzicide at 6:27 PM on April 10, 2009

I thought I saw something about freezes somewhere.

Anyhow, once you place the freeeze (one for each bureau!), your friend will get a PIN. This PIN is used for lifting the freeze. The only way to get a new pin is to send the various identification documents that were needed to place the freeze to the credit bureaus. I'm guessing Mom is committing fraud because it's convenient, not because she's a nefarious scheming thief. A freeze ought to be enough to keep your friend safe.

I'd call the cops though, enabling a shitty situation never makes it better, but that's just me.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 6:28 PM on April 10, 2009

Oh, and unfreezing your credit is as easy as going to a website (for each bureau). Really, it takes 5 minutes. I've been able to unfreeze my credit, go out, and sign up for a mortgage in 20 minutes.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 6:29 PM on April 10, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks a bunch, Geckwoistmeinauto. You led me to a site that outlines exactly how Massachusetts residents can in fact protect themselves.

Beyond that, is there anything else she should be doing?
posted by lizzicide at 6:40 PM on April 10, 2009

My wife was in a very similar situation not too long ago. You can call the credit card companies, cancel the card the mom has and set a double password on the account. Trust me, you mention identity theft even if it's your own mom, the cc companies will hop.
posted by CwgrlUp at 7:07 PM on April 10, 2009

Freezing her credit is the first step. That will heal stop the bleeding. She needs to be ever vigilant in watching her credit - making sure the wound does not open again.

But, she also needs to heal the damage. Her credit must be destroyed. She needs to take steps to repair her credit. Since you want no consquences for the mother, I am not sure how she will repair her credit. But, it is something she needs to be working on, thinking about.

One other issue to consider is her own liability. I mean, suppose she earns so money - and then her mother's scheme blows up, and the 800 pound gorilla comes looking for some missing bananas. They ain't get any out of jane's mom. but jane has some money, and after all the fraud was in her name. can she prove she is not liable, not involved.

If she really doesnt want to get her mom hurt, she should still at least cover her ass - becasue it could all blow up. Collect as much, of whatever type, of evidence that you can. I would record an argument. Keep a journal about it. Record every detail. Jane does not want to have the 800 pound gorilla looking for her because of this.
posted by Flood at 7:17 PM on April 10, 2009

Just because your friend didn't open the account doesn't mean that your friend knows who did it. I doubt the local police are gonna break out the crime lab over some identity theft.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 7:25 PM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

But, she also needs to heal the damage. Her credit must be destroyed.

If Jane's mom is still taking out new cards and lines of credit, then her credit must be OK. In fact if Jane's mom is actually making the payments on these cards, her credit could be good.

Anyway, I don't know how often Identity thieves are actually caught. If Jane simply reported all the credit as not being hers, she might be able to get them discharged without the police ever bothering to do an investigation. I suppose it depends on how much money has been racked up so far.

But she shouldn't try to protect her mom. There's really no way to do that. I mean the mom spent the money, right? She has to pay it back. I suppose she could try to sue her mom and get a judgment against her for the money, that might protect her mom from criminal liability. But you can't protect the mom from having to pay for the stuff she bought.
posted by delmoi at 7:28 PM on April 10, 2009

If Jane claims identity theft in order to discharge the debts, but doesn't finger her mother, then she's in a de facto conspiracy with her mother to defraud the credit card companies--and good luck to Jane explaining that she was just trying to keep family peace to the DA. She can try to cut her mother off, pay it all off, and move forward from here. But if she's going to to try to claim identity theft, she has to finger her mother as the thief; if she doesn't, she's in a much larger world of legal hurt.
posted by fatbird at 7:33 PM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest the following:
- Jane checks her credit reports to see how many cards are in her name
- Jane calls the card companies and closes the accounts that are being used by her mom
- Jane instructs these companies that her current address is X, not Y, and that she wants a password (not her maiden name, something else) on each account
- Jane pays off these accounts
posted by zippy at 7:47 PM on April 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh, and:

- Jane calls her Mom and says "Mom, I love you, and if you need money, I'll help you out if I can, but if you open an account in my name again, I'm going to tell the credit card company it was you pretending to be me, and then you're on your own."
posted by zippy at 7:57 PM on April 10, 2009

One way for her to battle new accounts being opened in her name is for her to change her social security number, but it's not an easy out and may not completely solve the problem ~ may serve as one step in the process, though.
posted by kattyann at 8:04 PM on April 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

I doubt the local police are gonna break out the crime lab over some identity theft.

Sure about that? My credit card company noticed some odd behaviour on my account, and asked me to file a police report. I called the police non-emergency line to find out where I should go to fill out the paperwork, and they sent a squad car to my house that evening, because, apparently, they like to get this stuff into their investigation teams as quickly as possible, while there's still a chance that the cards are in use and they'll be able to find the people using them. Especially for a non-negligible amount of money, I wouldn't count on the police not caring.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:25 PM on April 10, 2009

Best answer: there is a lot of good advice in this thread already but I'm going to jump in and give you another as-complete-as-possible list of what I would do.

close all the cards PRONTO. cut her off yourself. do not rely on mommie saying she did so. do not rely on mommie promising she won't open new ones. leave her no choice.

here's what you need her to do right now:

-go to truecredit.com and sign up for the credit monitoring option. it'll cost $15* or so each month but you get a full credit report as often as you like (you can refresh even though it says you already had one within the last 30 days, call them if you need help) and it's from all three bureaus. this includes who put something onto her file as well as her score as well as her payment history and total amount owed. it's everything that she needs and can get.

-put a fraud alert onto the credit report and add a cell phone number. nobody can add anything, apply, change anything without you knowing about this. make sure this is sent via registered mail to all three bureaus as well. it expires within six months or so, do it again and it'll stay on for what I think was seven years.*

-start reading and posting to the credit board forums. they are free and filled with people trying to clear up their own messy credit reports. they help each other and for every lender and every problem caused you will find ten people who have already dealt with this issue. they helped me greatly. karma demands you help others, too once you've learned more about this.

-start alerting lenders to fraudulent activity. if you didn't open up the account, write letters (don't just call or you will have to face questions you don't want to answer just yet - "so who picked up the mail?" being one of them) and they will close the cards quickly. her mothers shoddy payment history either already has or will significantly damaged her credit worthiness and if she's not all that wealthy and wants to go to college she really needs to get cracking on getting this sorted out. this kind of thing takes time and dedication.

by now a week has probably gone by and you have a little breathing room. it's time to think of the bigger picture. I hate to break it to you but the credit card companies don't just want to write this off. they will file charges. they will try to recover the debt owed. they will fight hard. someone is going to fall for this and it's either her or her mom. this is serious criminal behavior and it's not going to end with a slap on the wrist unless someone has a really good lawyer whose job it is to find mistakes in charges filed.

someone in nyc once walked into an apple store with a copy of my card and cleared out my account. he bought all the hardware he could afford and he knew how much that was. when my card was declined at a chicago starbucks ten minutes later and I called to complain the company obviously instantly knew I couldn't have been at two places at once. yet they went a very formal route. I had to file a sworn affidavit, I had the FBI on my doorstep to "chat" twice and private investigators hired by the bank came by as well. I don't know if they found the guy but they were taking a real close look at me to see whether I might be pulling a fast one on them. I expect something similar to happen in your friends case.

finally a message to your friend: get a lawyer. get legal advise. if you cannot afford one, try to find pro bono help. you're in a heap of trouble, this is going to cost you dearly. this is a terrible situation. you need to make sure you don't get screwed again because you want to protect your mom.

do not under any circumstances tell lies to the credit card companies. do not say you don't know who did this. do not pretend you lost your wallet. do not protect your mom only to end up paying all this or even going to jail for something like perjury.

did I scare you? good, that's what I wanted. you need to realize you are dealing with a situation you haven't dealt with before and need an expert. find a lawyer. find free legal help if you can't afford one yourself (that would be a separate ask.me question). tell the lawyer what your goals are (1. come out without this hurting you more. 2. don't want to be an aid in moms downfall. 3. don't want to end up with a criminal record.) and LET THEM HELP YOU. that is what they are for.

accept that you need help and can't figure this out on your own and you will come out okay. try to do this all yourself and you will get screwed. you are dealing with people who do all this day after day. you are an amateur up against professionals.

good luck and thank you for the 'best answer.'

*sketchy on detail but right on principle.
posted by krautland at 4:49 AM on April 11, 2009 [11 favorites]

Response by poster: Just an FYI - Jane intends to pay back the balances with or without her mother's help, so it's not a matter of discharging the debts as fraud to get out of paying them.
posted by lizzicide at 5:17 AM on April 11, 2009

Krautland said it best:
There is no way to legally Jane can protect her mother in this situation by saying "whoops." There is no way to legally lie about this, or fail to implicate her. Think of Jane's credit report as the PERMANENT RECORD every child was terrified that acting up in class was going to be on - except this is a very real threat with permanent implications. Where Jane may have once been a 650lb gorilla in the room, she may now be a 500 lb gorilla, or a 400 lb gorilla or even less. Even if Jane had the ability to pay off the unknown debt tomorrow, this isn't a short term handicap - this is a handicap that will affect her her entire life. She will pay more for a car loan - if she can get one. She will be turned down by landlords after they do a credit check. Even in 8-16 years, she will be less likely to secure a good home loan. A 200 point handicap in credit score is huge.

She may not want to, but she needs to turn her mother in, she needs to get in line with the rest of her mother's debtors and sue, she needs to make every effort to remove as much of this from her credit rating as possible, and what she can't remove, she needs to patience with the long slow process of repairing her credit rating. As for her resistance to legal action against her mother: the longer she takes, rationalizing herself into pacifivity, the more damage will be done to her credit report, and the more damage will be done with the relationship between Jane and her mother. Seriously though, their relationship in any context around this is already over - Jane needs time to come to terms with that.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:23 AM on April 11, 2009

I was going to start screaming at the notion of jane paying this back, especially since it would mean she'd legitimize the payment history, but nanukthedog already said it very well.

how is this any different from her mother doing anything else to her? would she protect her if she had been raped thanks to her mothers actions? that's a really strong question to ask but you really need to shake her up here. if mommie gets out of this without a strong warning shot across the bow mommie will do this again to her. or the even helpless brother.

if jane fails to act decisively, she's allowing her mom to victimize the next person. that's going to be the disabled brother as a target of convenience. jane will be complicit in that crime.
posted by krautland at 6:39 AM on April 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

one more argument for punishing mom: criminals who don't have to face the consequences of their actions graduate to more severe acts. this has been a crime of convenience - mommie did this because it was easy and required little work.

she will want more money soon. the credit cards won't work because janes credit history will be shot to death. so mommie will find some other scheme. she will graduate to something that will make her more money with just as little effort.

you can do enough damage from your couch to get sent up the river for ten or fifteen years. jane is accepting this MIGHT (!) happen if she doesn't deliver a shot across the bow now.
posted by krautland at 6:45 AM on April 11, 2009

Jane needs to talk to a lawyer. She could end up in prison. She's delusional if she thinks her mother would protect *her.* What if the credit companies think it's conspiracy and Jane's mother refuses to take all the blame?
posted by daisydaisy at 10:46 AM on April 11, 2009

When I posted above, I missed a crucial part of your question: "on balances that neither Jane nor her parents can afford to pay down."

If Jane cannot pay the balances down, then either she or her mom is going to take the fall.

If Jane chooses to take the fall, then she will:

- be saddled with debt she can't afford
- possibly be denied employment based on a poor credit report
- probably will have a harder time getting credit
- probably will get more of the same behavior from Mom

Jane needs to make a hard choice here.
posted by zippy at 11:48 AM on April 11, 2009

Well, the easiest solution would be for Jane to do nothing. She will then proceed to have her own credit ruined, her accounts overdrawn, etc. The accounts will close and go into collections, which she can take as long as she wants to repay, in the meantime her ability to secure credit in any way, shape or form will be nil. Which means her mother's ability to secure credit in any way, shape, or form will also be nil.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:59 PM on April 11, 2009

Call the police. "What Jane wants" has obviously not helped her solve this on-going criminal behavior. It's about time to enlist the aid of people paid to enforce the law. There's no relationship to salvage here, her mother is stealing from her and engaging in emotional blackmail to continue the thievery. Enough is enough.
posted by wkearney99 at 7:09 PM on April 12, 2009

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