October 27, 2008

Question: My 20-year-old son applied for a Macy’s charge card but was rejected. When he ordered his credit report, we discovered that my ex-husband, who has the same name as my son, opened a Comcast cable account using our son’s Social Security number, then neglected to pay $453 in charges. How can we fix this? – Name Withheld, Fla.

Answer: Identity theft is frustrating enough to deal with, but even worse when a family member or friend turns out to be the culprit. Sadly, it’s not uncommon. Of ID theft victims who know how their personal information was taken (and fully half do), the most common factor cited is that someone they know – a relative, friend or co-worker – stole it, the Federal Trade Commission says.

In any ID theft case, as soon as you spot something amiss, go directly to the source – in this case Comcast. Alert the credit bureaus too, but always fix the problem with the source to keep it from cropping up again. Though most bureaus allow you to file disputes online or over the phone, when a situation is as complex as your son’s, it’s best to send a letter and documented proof of the mistake via certified mail. You should also file a police report, which many creditors require, and include that with your dispute letter. Then, if it happens again, it’ll be easier to clear up.

When I contacted Comcast, spokeswoman Jenni Moyer apologized that you weren’t able to get the situation resolved at your local Comcast office (she suggested contacting the corporate customer care hotline in the future). Comcast asked the collection agency that reported your son to the credit bureaus to remove the $453 charge and send a letter to the credit bureaus, clearing your son’s record.

Since then, I’m happy to hear that your son not only was able to obtain a credit card but has a solid 700-plus credit score. Repairing damage to a credit score is tricky but doable. Rebuilding the trust between your son and his father may be tougher.

Tip: Spot identity theft early by monitoring your credit report for unauthorized activity. Go to annualcreditreport.com to request your credit report free once every 12 months from each of the three major credit bureaus.

So far Money Helps has saved readers $194,442.03.

Having a financial nightmare? E-mail Donna Rosato at money_helps@moneymail.com.

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