When “Jonathan” was 14-years-old, his Dad opened a few credit cards and acquired a few utilities in his name—unbeknownst to him. Fast-forward four years and Jon, now with enough money saved for a down payment on a vehicle, is denied financing from a used car dealership. Frustrated but not discouraged he tries another—rejected again. Annoyed but still not discouraged he tries another—rejected a third time. But this time Jon asked why. The car salesman explained to Jon that he pulled his 25-page credit report and found that his credit was terrible. You see, Dad never paid any of the bills he racked up in Jon’s name and now lawyers, bill collectors, and a sheriff with a warrant are coming after Jon—while Dad cannot be found.
Unfortunately, family members putting utilities, credit cards, and even loans in their children’s names is not uncommon. Oftentimes, the children never find out about the offense until years later.
If you are trapped in this tangled web, the first thing you need to do is contact the creditors “you” owe, says Sonya Smith-Valentine, a lawyer who specializes in identity theft and credit fraud. Smith-Valentine represented a client who went through a situation similar to Jon’s. He was able to show the companies his birth certificate, proving that he was a minor when the transactions occurred, showing that he could not have possibly made the purchases.
Smith-Valentine stresses the importance of writing the creditors and not just calling. If you know a family member made the purchases, detail this information and include a copy of your birth certificate to clearly show that you were a minor during the transactions in question, and also point out your minor status in the letter. You should also send a copy of the letter to all the credit reporting agencies—Experian, Equifax and Transunion. Smith-Valentine also recommends that you keep copies of all the letters you send, and that you send them via certified mail.
If the initial letter and phone call to customer service yield no results, go to the top. “Spend a little time doing a quick Google search to find the office of the president,” says Smith-Valentine. Send another letter—via certified mail—and include a copy of the initial letter you sent to customer service. If you can, include even more information about the problem you are trying to resolve. “Go to the boss, the head boss. It cuts down on time and some of the frustration,” adds Smith-Valentine. “When you start at the top, they can fix it.”