A Family Member Opened a Credit Card in My Name: What To Do and How to Save Your Credit

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Lyndon Seitz
Writer
Dolores Bernal
Editor
September 14, 2023

If you’re reading this, you are likely in a difficult situation. A family member has betrayed you, using your credit for personal gain by opening a credit card in your name.

Unfortunately, the situation is all too common. That doesn’t make it any less tough emotionally and practically. And all too often, the perpetrator gets away with it.

Don’t be one of the victims who doesn’t get justice. You don’t want this financial albatross hanging around your neck, and you don’t want the situation to get worse.

Here’s what you need to know and what you need to do.

A Person Doing Business Transaction Online

Photo by Mikhail Nilov

How Does It Happen?

Family members typically have more access to your personal information and documents than the average person. After all, they often live with, raised you, or were raised by you. A lot of trust has to be assumed for a healthy living situation.

And that trust gets abused, leaving people like you in a bad situation.

Practically speaking –

  1. The identity thief gains access to enough information to apply for credit in your name. Opening a credit card requires basic contact information, income information, employment status, a Social Security number, and other information. All of this can be easily estimated or gained by a family member in your household.
  2. The thief then goes through the process of applying for a card, pretending to be you the entire time.
  3. The thief, likely living in your house or close to you, can lie and hide away the evidence, discarding inconvenient mail and directing collection calls to their number (ignored and blocked).

While it’s hard for an identity thief to hide their crimes forever, it can take a while for the victim to notice, especially if they think the perpetrator would never do such a thing.

How Common Is This?

Far too common, more common than is likely reported, and more common than you think.

Credit card fraud was the second most common type of identity theft in the United States in 2021, behind benefit fraud.

Per the FTC, 1.4 million identity theft cases occurred last year, leading to $52 billion in losses. Not all of it is related to family members doing the deed, but it showcases the scale of the problem.

There were 390,000 cases of credit card fraud in 2021. Losses from credit card fraud over the next 10 years will equal $165.1 billion, according to projections.

And it’s hard to get the exact numbers. While some reports say about 9-10% of cases have a family member as the offender, it is hard to verify these numbers.

Often these crimes will go unreported, given that family is involved and the victim doesn’t want to get the perpetrator involved with the criminal justice system.

Signs You Are a Victim

If you notice or know for a fact any of the following, then you should consider the possibility this is happening to you:

  • Someone is trying to hide financial statements or mail from you or says they will take care of the financial matters from now on (and they’re quite insistent about it).
  • You are getting statements or notices for credit cards you didn’t sign up for (this is less a “sign” and more “hard evidence”).
  • You are noticing problems with your credit report, notice applications for credit you didn’t initiate, or are finding it hard to get credit or credit on good terms.
  • There are changes in how a close family member acts about money and spending.
  • Do you notice anything else off? You know your household best. Is anyone acting strange? Regardless of if it’s someone opening a credit card in your name or not, you should investigate.

There can be other signs, and you should be on the lookout for them (without veering into the realm of paranoia directed at your family members). Essentially, just notice when things change or when things seem off financially.

This Is Identity Theft

This is a form of financial fraud and this is a form of identity theft. If they did not have explicit permission from you to set things up for you (in which case you’d have full knowledge, and there’d be no issue), they acted against you, and you are the victim of a crime.

You will need to act accordingly. Don’t assume that it stops at a credit card in your name. Consider other forms of identity theft as well.

It Doesn’t Matter if They’re Family – They Still Committed a Crime

Again, I want to stress that this is a crime and should be treated as such. This is not someone making a slight mistake. This is not someone taking a $20 bill out of your wallet without asking, thinking it’d be ok. 

This serious action took multiple steps, was consciously done, and the perpetrator continued the act every time they used the card taken out in your name. 

If they decide to do this, you must, in turn, decide how to protect yourself, restore your credit, and ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Person Holding Brown Credit Card and Cellphone

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko

Being a crime, it can mean fines, criminal penalties, or jail time for the perpetrator. However, it will not stop unless you do something. You will likely never be able to trust the perpetrator again, at least not with financial matters. It could leave a gap or wedge in your household and family if it’s far gone or severe.

Despite this, doing nothing is worse and creates the potential for more victims. It will also just get worse for you.

Common Scenarios

Who are the common victims? What does this look like normally? What variants of this situation should you look out for?

Every case is a bit different, but here are some common themes and issues.

Elder Financial Fraud

The elderly are often easily targeted, and identity thieves know this. They have to worry about not only scams online or by phone but also people they know (including family members) targeting them for financial and credit card fraud.

According to one larger study done in 2014, about 6 in 10 cases of elder financial fraud or abuse were done by a family member. And a remaining 3 in 10 still knew the victim in some cases.

The same study found that the closer the tie between the thief and the victim, the greater the damages eventually done.

If you are an elder, while you might want to give family members the benefit of the doubt, you need to know that this can happen, and it can happen to you.

Child Identity Fraud

Children and minors are especially vulnerable to this type of fraud. In 2017, more than 1 million children were victims of identity fraud, and credit cards were a heavy part. Worse yet, about 60 percent of victims knew the perpetrator, whether a relative, close family friend or caregiver.

If you are a minor and have discovered that a family member opened a credit card in your name, know that you have rights and there are organizations and institutions meant to benefit you.

Spousal Fraud

Spousal abuse can come in many forms, and that includes financial abuse. Even if you’re married, documents should be signed with your consent. A spouse opening a credit card in your name without your knowledge is still identity theft.

Since accounts and finances can be heavily linked in a marriage, fixing this can be difficult, if not impossible. It’s important to know what is going on financially in your household, even if you aren’t in charge of the spreadsheets.

An ex-spouse can also be a common perpetrator, given they have the motive and means.

couple sitting on sofa having marriage issues

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto

Deceased Family Fraud

If you’re reading this, you probably aren’t dead. 

However, on the off chance you are dead and reading this, you should know that your family, if unscrupulous, may take advantage of your situation and take out a credit card in your name. 

This happens before institutions know the victim has shuffled off their mortal coil and will not be paying credit card bills for the foreseeable future.

In many ways, it’s the same situation where family members will still collect benefits for a deceased household member.

So while you may not be the most immediately concerned about this type of fraud, it can affect your estate in the long run, so putting in place protections and carefully considering who will be the executor of your estate (as well as having a clear will) is in your benefit.

Are You Responsible for These Debts?

No, not unless you accept them. However, there are steps you need to take.

There is fraud protection so long as you report the false charges within 30 days (this can vary depending on the company). You will need to act quickly, but if you do, the most you’ll be on the hook for is $50.

That’s not a bad deal for learning the unpleasant truth about a family member.

You can find more details and nuance by looking into the Fair Credit Billing Act.

If it has been longer than 30 days, you might be responsible, but there may be legal recourse you can take if you have evidence of long-term fraud.

The Consequences of Letting It Go Undealt With

While it can be a harrowing prospect, you cannot ignore the issue when you find it. You will be responsible for those debts if you let it go on.

Additionally, it can affect your credit score, available credit, and more. Even if, for some reason, the offending party is paying off the card made in your name, they might be using the card in a way that damages your credit and, thus, your future.

What to Do If a Family Member Opened a Credit Card in Your Name

1. Collect Evidence

It doesn’t necessarily have to be for a civil or criminal trial. Still, it will be easier to explain what happened to companies and other loved ones if you have documentation. 

Keep names, times, dates, purchases, and other information. Don’t dispose of anything that showcases what your family member did to defraud you.

Back it up in a safe space, ideally online and in hard copy. The offending party might try to destroy evidence if they think you’re onto them.

2. Should You Confront the Offending Party? When?

This is a difficult question that has no clear answer.

You need to deal with the situation, which means the offending party will likely know you know. There’s no avoiding that.

Couple fight each other

Photo by Afif Ramdhasuma

You should only mention the issue to them after taking action to get your identity back and cancel the card. Your response should come as a surprise.

And if you think you are at threat of physical violence from the identity thief, meet with them in a public location and confront them about it there, if you feel the need. 

Alternatively, keep yourself safe and have the police confront the criminal as needed. Your personal safety and that of the rest of your family is the most important thing here.

3. Cancel the Account(s) and Dispute Charges

You need to cancel that credit card. 

Given that it is in your name and with your information, you should be able to contact the company that put it out and cancel it through a call to customer service. It might be inconvenient, and you might need to dig out some documents, but it’s necessary.

You may also need to dispute the changes, especially if existing accounts were also involved. Most credit cards have special protections for this exact type of situation. 

4. Report the Fraud to Related and Appropriate Authorities/Companies

You will likely need to file a report to the FTC about the fraud and may want to, regardless. You can report fraud online here or call them if you’re more comfortable talking on the phone.

You may have already reported the fraud to the credit card provider. If you haven’t, now is the time to do so. If you got your credit card through your bank, you should contact your bank, if only to place added protections on your account(s).

Depending on your location, you may need to report the crime elsewhere. Do so after an additional search on the topic.

5. File a Police Report/Contact the Authorities

It might be difficult to turn in a family member for a crime but provide as much detail as possible. To file the report, call your police station’s non-emergency line or go in person to the station and explain the situation.

The authorities will work you through the situation and explain the next steps.

6. Start a Fraud Alert and Freeze Your Credit

While contacting who you need to, ensure that you freeze your credit and put a fraud alert on your accounts. These steps will help you if the perpetrator tries anything else and will likely stop them from doing so.

Contact your banks and credit providers to set up a fraud alert with them. As for freezing your credit, you can use this guide.

7. Get Further Protection

Once someone has your information, it’s hard to erase their memory. Additionally, it’s entirely possible the information could have been passed on or not securely stored (after all, it’s not theirs).

Identity theft can recur. If the information is out there or the culprit thinks they can get away with it again after things cool down, it could happen again even years later.

You have better things to do than constantly stay alert for more issues. While some vigilance is required, you should also enjoy life. 

For this reason, I recommend getting Aura or a similar service to monitor your credit and identity so that this doesn’t happen again. They can provide insurance in the event of a breach, provide alerts and watches, and monitor your accounts and credit.

Meanwhile, it would also benefit you to distance yourself from the offending family member. It can be difficult, but it is eventually for the best.

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Conclusion – Dealing with This Isn’t Easy, but It’s Necessary 

This is a heavy topic, and you might have much to consider. 

Still, there is no use denying that someone close to you committed fraud against you. They want you to take the damage for it and hope you’ll do nothing.

Don’t do nothing, take action against the offender and fix your credit and life as soon as possible. Report the crime to who you need to, contact the proper companies, and then engage a service such as Aura so that it doesn’t happen again.

Please consult additional resources, legal counsel as needed, and the emotional support you need. Meanwhile, I hope this piece helps you through your turmoil and you can implement the steps above as soon as possible.

Related: What To Do When You Lose Your Credit Card?

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