Family Plot: When a Relative Steals Your Credit Card

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Comedian Rodney Dangerfield made a living out hanging himself – and his family – out to dry. He once said, “My uncle's dying wish was that he wanted me on his lap. He was in the electric chair when he said so.”

OK, most families aren’t that bad, but a growing number of family feuds are brewing over a ticklish topic – the theft of credit cards from family members.

It’s a burgeoning problem in a tight economy. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that 9% of all identity theft has a family member as the culprit. That’s about 900,000 incidents annually, the FTC says.

Sure, few would want to acknowledge that credit card theft is an inside job, but it’s better to be in the driver’s seat than in denial. So, if this happens to you, here is what to do.

First, if you’re the victim of a family-related credit card theft, you’re going to have to file a police report – there’s really no way of getting around that. The reason? Your creditors won’t absolve you of any responsibility for lost money unless you officially record the incident with your local police. That’s likely going to lead to charges being filed – but that’s not your fault.

Your only other viable option is to buck up, confront the family member with proof that you know he or she committed fraud using your card, and ask for immediate restitution. Use the threat of police action if you have to, but don’t settle for anything less than a complete apology and financial compensation for the money lost. A tip: don’t accept a check – only cash. Just because the perp is your brother, for example, doesn’t mean he won’t skip out on the debt.

Chances are the family member was in dire straits to begin with, so getting the full sum is not likely. But if you agree to installment payments, then the activity on your credit card could lead to significant damage on your credit score if it’s not paid off. In this case, contact your creditor directly, explain that you were the victim of identity theft and produce a signed note from your family member that he or she committed ID fraud. That might be enough to keep your credit intact, if you make your case strongly enough, but your lender will still want the money back, no matter what. And, your creditor still might insist on that credit report.


A little preventive medicine won’t hurt, either.

Throw away – or even burn – credit card offers that you get in the mail. They may prove too tempting to a cash-strapped family member passing by one lying on the kitchen table.

Also, keep your personal data locked away in a safe or locked desk where nobody can get at it. This is especially useful if you’re in a mixed-family environment (like a remarriage) where you don’t know new family members very well.

Keep any computer user names and passwords locked away as well – and don’t share them with anyone. It’s a short trip from getting your password to racking up charges on your credit card.

It’s tough to think that a family member would rip you off. But as the FTC estimates show, it happens more than you might think.

Consequently, go ahead and trust – but verify that your personal financial data is protected, too.

—For a comprehensive credit report, visit the BankingMyWay.com Credit Center.

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