What To Do If Your “Ex” Is Using Your Information To Open Credit
This is a common question and a worry that many people have related to their significant others during any divorce or breakup. When we are with someone, we share things with them, more than just emotions and love, sometimes, extremely private identifying information like social security numbers, dates of birth, mother’s maiden names, and other credit-related information.
The first thing to know is that ANY unlawful use of this information is illegal and subjects that offender to criminal and civil penalties. In the state of Florida, and almost all 50 states, fraudulently using the identifying information of another person such as a social security number, is considered a felony(1). As a brief reminder, both felonies and misdemeanors can subject the offending party to arrest; the only difference is the amount of time for which the offender can be punished.
The second thing to know is how to monitor your credit. There are many programs such as Credit Karma, Mint, and even most of your current credit card servicers and banks which offer free, or little out of pocket cost credit monitoring. Additionally, services like LifeLock, and others even offer insurance for the costs to restore your credit.
Ok, so you have determined that your “ex” has fraudulently opened a credit card in your name.
The first thing you should do is to grab a notebook and get ready to take some notes. Then, you will need to contact the provider, whether it be a credit card company or other provider and stop any service immediately. Usually, credit card companies can handle this immediately and can look up your information by your social security number or your credit card number. Be sure to document whoever you speak with in that notepad.
Then, it is time for the “big guns.” That means you should get the police and your lawyer involved as soon as possible. While lawyers charge by the hour, filing a police report often costs nothing at all. The hardest part of an allegation like identity theft, is the evidentiary collection, in other words, finding the proof. Police are better equipped to do the initial fact finding, whereas lawyers are excellent at applying those facts to better your situation.
Now that you have a plan to call the police, the next step is to gather all the relevant information that the police will need to properly document the incident. “Relevant information” means any proof you already have. Remember, the title of the article is about your “ex,” so what information do you have to prove that it was your “ex?” Things like text messages, emails, or even voicemails, along with specific facts related to application will be relevant to the Police Officer and to your lawyer. You should collect all this information and then try your best to organize it. Use your notebook to help keep yourself organized. When you have all the information, go ahead and give the police a call. Sometimes, depending on your jurisdiction, the police will come to you. Other times, you may need to go to them, or simply give them the information over the phone. Be thorough and get the name of the police officer you speak with. Also, be sure to document the case number and the name of the agency you called. Every police report is given a case number. This case number is how your report will be differentiated from the hundreds or even thousands of other reports that the police document each day. Once you have that information, the next phone call is to your lawyer.
The reason you are now calling your lawyer is to decide your next step. Filing a police report does not mean “pressing charges” or calling for someone’s arrest. Sometimes, arrest is not the best solution for you, or for your family. In many cases, it can make things worse. That does not leave you powerless, instead, your lawyer will look over your case, your marital settlement agreement, any parenting plans, or other related court orders and determine if it will be better to pursue this via a civil action, or via the criminal courts, or both.
Now, lawyers are not free, BUT in most states, including Florida, the offending party can be responsible for reasonable attorney fees (2). Additionally, while only one statute was mentioned in this article, there are more than a dozen related to identity fraud and theft depending on how the offender obtained the information.
Lastly, and this tends to be the most tedious of steps, you need to contact all three credit bureaus and notify them of the fraudulently obtained information. This step is last since each credit bureau has a slightly different procedure, and nearly all of them require the information from the police report. Usually, you will initiate a “dispute” for each item on your credit report that you believe is fraudulent. Check out the links below as great starting points for each bureau.
- Dispute information on your credit report
- Debunking dispute myths
- How to correct inaccuracies in your credit report for free
Combating identity theft, especially by someone you know, is scary and difficult, but it does not need to be impossible. The most important part in any situation like this is to act quickly. The second most important part is to document everything thoroughly.
Some tips to prevent this from ever being an issue is to safeguard your login information with what is called “two-factor authentication” or “2fa.” This means that even if someone knows your password or other identifiable information, they need a second input, from you, to access the information. There are a lot of options for 2fa and it is worth reading up on some that will work for you.
We at Yaffa Family Law Group are here to help guide you in whatever you may need and to help prevent these types of issues before they start. Please contact us if you have questions related to these type of situations or if you need immediate assistance.
(1) Fla. Stat. Ann. § 817.568 (West) Criminal use of Personal identification information which subjects the offender, in many cases, to a mandatory minimum confinement period of three (3) years
(2) Fla. Stat. Ann. § 817.568 (West) where the convicted defendant may be ordered to pay restitution as “well as any attorney’s fees incurred by the victim in clearing the victim’s credit history or rating.”
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