Dear Opening Credits,
My son was recently married. His new wife came from a family that has made bad choices financially. They just ran a credit report on themselves and found that his mother-in-law has his wife listed on a joint credit card account with her. His wife knew nothing of the account. How can his wife get off the card? Is she liable for any of the debt on the card she that knew nothing about? -- Brad
If your daughter-in-law's mother really did add her daughter's name to a credit account application without her permission, she's an identity thief.
I understand that you may want to be involved with righting this wrong, but I'm afraid your daughter-in-law will have to shoulder most of the burden. However, you can play a supportive role. Here's what you can tell her to correct the matter and stem future problems.
First, she must call the credit card company to explain that she did not authorize the application for credit, that she should be removed as a joint account owner and that the account be closed. This should be fairly easy if she was a minor when it was issued. All she would have to do is provide her birthdate and point out that she was too young to even enter into such an agreement.
If she was older than 18, though, she'll have to prove that she did not consent to the arrangement and that involves filing a police report.
Calling the authorities on her mother may be tough, but a crime has occurred. She should report it not just to deal with this issue, but to stop her mother from doing it again. A mother tends to have access to her child's birth certificate and Social Security number. With such personal data, she can do all sorts of damage, such as apply for car and home loans in your daughter-in-law's name.
The next step is to have your daughter-in-law add a fraud alert to her credit file. To do so, she'll need to contact one of the three major credit reporting bureaus -- TransUnion, Equifax or Experian -- and have the alert placed. Reporting it to one is enough; they must add it to the other two. If her mom (or any other crook) tries to open a new card in her name again, the lender will have to take steps to make sure that your daughter-in-law authorized the request.
When placing the alert, she'll have two choices: one that lasts 90 days or seven years. Because this woman will be her parent forever, I'd suggest making use of the latter. The only sticking point with that option is that it requires a police report indicating that she has been a fraud victim. So if she's resistant to calling the cops on her own flesh and blood, she'll have to be satisfied with the alert that lasts for three months, and to manually renew it each time it lapses. Also, without that police report, she will have a harder time convincing the card issuer that she shouldn't be held liable for the card balance.
The issuer should stop reporting the account on your daughter-in-law's credit reports within about 30 days. Presuming she is allowed off the account, any debt that was incurred will also cease to be her responsibility. If she experiences resistance from the creditor and it continues to report the account on her file, she may block it from appearing by providing the police report to the credit bureaus as proof.
I'm sorry that your loved ones are having such troubles so early on in their marriage, and that the crime was perpetuated by a parent. Sadly, such crimes are not uncommon.
See related: Mom ruined her credit? 7 steps to recover it , Take these steps to repair your credit after ID theft by parent