Starting Off Negative
January 10, 2008 9:50 PM   Subscribe

Someone opened a credit account in my name a few years back; it is now overdue. What do I do?

A credit check has uncovered a credit card opened in my name in 2005. It is now over $3,000 overdue. The only person who could have done this is a close family member currently trying to overcome a heavy addiction (leaving little doubt as to the culprit.) Prosecution isn't really an option, and the family member is in no position to provide this money. I plan to confront said family member very soon, but I know that they will be unable to do anything and very well may not remember making the charges.

So what can I do? I have $25,000 in student loans to chew through and I'm barely making $600 a month right now; I'm hardly in a position to pay someone else's debt. And I need to build my credit, which is a pointless exercise with that card sitting on my report. Do I have options?
posted by Phyltre to Work & Money (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Unfortunately, situations like these are common enough that your options are well-known.

1) Assume responsibility for the debt, since it's in your name and you don't want to punish the culprit, ask personal friend and family for money to help.


2) Report your relative for the crime he committed, and report the crime to the credit card company. Your relative will face criminal prosecution of some sort, guaranteed, but you might get some relief on the debt.

I know it sucks, but since your relative committed a crime, it should suck for them at least as much as it sucks for you. Their actions shouldn't result in consequences for you, despite how much you care for them.
posted by chudmonkey at 10:31 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

You've got a problem with very little room for advice.

Either the addict takes responsibility for his actions, gets a job and starts paying this debt off OR you report the identity theft, file a police report, and deal with it that way.

It's my opinion that you're not really helping the family member if you let this slide in any way. He or she needs to hit rock bottom and learn that you don't hurt people this way. Maybe it will take handcuffs and some jail time to do that or maybe it will take scrubbing toilets at a janitor job.
posted by sharkfu at 10:34 PM on January 10, 2008

Are you absolutely sure that your close family member did this? Accusing him or her incorrectly could damage your relationship, so make sure have all of the facts before any kind of confrontation.

The FTC has a website with a specific set of steps to follow after having your identity stolen, which should apply to your situation. You also might want to check the previous questions related to identity theft.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:35 PM on January 10, 2008

(Chudmonkey types faster than me.)
posted by sharkfu at 10:36 PM on January 10, 2008

one option is to pretend like you don't know who did it, report it to popo, feign surprise when they bust your no-good relative. he's still getting a soft deal, compared to what it would be if he were my relative.
posted by bruce at 10:58 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Contact the creditor and advise them of the situation. They're gonna tell you to make a police report. Sucks that it is a family member, but that person did not think about you when he/she opened the account.
posted by C17H19NO3 at 2:05 AM on January 11, 2008

Under what address was the actual bill mailed? If it was a P.O. or student mailbox then it could be a different scenario than what you're thinking. At any rate I'd go with bruce's gameplan, just file the fraud as you would if it was anybody. If the checks (or bills) are coming to your address however it's a bit tougher to justify your claim but it's still plausible. (one method of identity theft is to use the victims mailbox to get the card issued, which involves the federal crime of intercepting postal mail.)

I wish you the best of luck, although as others have stated your options are fairly limited. Either report the fraud, or pay the bill and cancel the card....the problem with either option is that it could happen again however if you don't address the root of the problem and get this relative some professional help.
posted by samsara at 5:47 AM on January 11, 2008

(Almost forgot, if you decide to pay off the debt try to consolidate your expenses onto a different account...student one if the APR is decent...and close the fraudulent one immediately)
posted by samsara at 5:50 AM on January 11, 2008

I had a similar situation about 10 years ago, although in my case I had no idea where the account had come from. If you didn't open the account, call the creditor and credit reporting agencies and tell them it is not your account, ask for the documentation used to open the account. File reports stating it is not your account and you have no knowledge of it ever having been opened. I am assuming you discovered this account on a credit report, or by being contacted by some collection agency? If the bills haven't been coming to your address, you should be able to prove that you had no way of taking care of this situation sooner. If they have and you've just ignored it for this long, I'm not sure what to tell you...

Also, get a lawyer to write a letter to the creditor and credit bureaus demanding the account be removed from your credit report unless they can prove that you personally opened the account. I tried to do this on my own for about a year before I went to student legal services (I was in college at the time) and asked for help. The account was removed about a week after they received the letter.

While I agree with some others that your family member needs to take responsibility, you may be able to handle this without dragging that person into it.
posted by uvaleg at 5:58 AM on January 11, 2008

You dont have to accuse anyone or do any detective work. Call the credit card company and tell them you were a victim of identity theft.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:28 AM on January 11, 2008

The lender will have kept the application used to open the account. It won't have your signature on it. It should be pretty obvious to the lender that it's not you. Whether you choose to recognize the signature as your relative is up to you.
posted by kindall at 8:39 AM on January 11, 2008

The consequences for you at this point (if the balance is overdue) is a severe ding to your credit history, if you choose to assume responsibility and not report this account as fradulent. This will impact you for several years to come as it will remain on the report, if unquestioned. If it is indeed the family member you believe it to be, unfortunately I do not view the addiction in question as a valid excuse for this behavior. Rather, this is a consequence of the addiction and that individual needs to be held accountable. Monetary consequences are part of that traditional characteristics of "hitting rock bottom." Point being, in no way should you be responsible for paying debt that is not yours.
posted by Asherah at 9:50 AM on January 11, 2008

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