ITRC Fact Sheet 115A
When a Spouse is the Identity Thief
Unfortunately the normal procedure for clearing your credit reports of fraudulent charges doesn’t apply if you’re currently married to the person using your information fraudulently.
The way marital property laws are written in most states, you and your spouse are seen financially as one person. Your spouse therefore has the ability to access accounts you’ve opened. Additionally, they may apply for new lines of credit using your information. The only general exception to this rule is if they’ve forged your signature without your consent, this could now become a case of forgery or fraud.
You can try to file a police report, and we do encourage that you take that step. However, most police departments are reluctant to follow up as they tend to view these situations as more domestic disputes than actual theft. The only surefire way to remove bills accrued in this way from your credit report is to either pay them off, or file for divorce and attempt to have them attached to your spouse’s responsibility during the division of marital assets and debts.
Are you willing to, or planning on, filing for a legal separation or divorce?
If the answer is yes, the first step should be filing for a legal separation. This is different than filing for divorce. A legal separation outlines through a court order, the rights and responsibilities of each individual while they are living apart. This refers to assets and debts, child custody and other custodial issues.
It is vitally important to consult with a family law or divorce attorney as to the necessary steps. Specify that you want to be financially separated as well as legally. Also discuss the division of assets, including debts on credit cards, and who will be responsible for each card. Ask the attorney to include a clause in the legal separation indicating that all cards opened after the date of the legal separation are the sole property of the card holder and may not be listed as a joint account. Once that the legal separation is done, if your spouse continues to open fraudulent accounts using your information it is now considered identity theft and you can use the steps in ITRC Fact Sheet FS 100 - Financial Identity Theft: the Beginning Steps in order to clear the fraudulent activity.
Once you are legally separated, notify the Credit Reporting Agencies (CRAs) of the separation and then obtain your credit reports. To do this, you will need to write to the three CRAs at the addresses below.
- Equifax Inc., P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
- Experian Inc., P.O. Box 9701, Allen, TX 75013-0949
- TransUnion LLC, P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19016
Send them a copy of your state ID or driver’s license, a copy of your Social Security card, a copy of your separation papers, and a copy of a bill or a bank statement with the same name and address that is on your state ID card. In your cover letter state your name, address and SSN. If you have moved in the past 5 years, include your previous addresses. Explain to them that you are now legally and financially separated from your spouse and you would like your credit report separated from your spouse’s SSN. You may also include a written statement that you are no longer legally associated with your spouse and that person is not permitted to use your information for any purposes. Request that they send you a copy of this separated credit report. Send all of your documentation Certified Return Receipt Mail Requested.
If you are planning on, or have received, a divorce:
In order to have any fraudulently opened accounts removed from your credit report, your divorce attorney, all credit issuers, and your spouse’s attorney will need to agree who is responsible for each account. This will become a part of the court order. You should request that your attorney get a full financial deposition from your spouse and copies of all three of their credit reports. This will help identify accounts of which you are not currently aware.
Please review your credit reports. Look for all the accounts that you did not open and highlight them for ease of reference. Contact these companies and try to obtain copies of the applications that were filled out. You may need to send them a fraud affidavit and a copy of a police report (see ITRC Fact Sheet FS 100). If your signature was forged on these documents, have your signature notarized for comparison. Give all of this information to your attorney. Any joint loans or items that you owe money on will need to be negotiated with the lender prior to the mediation or divorce decree. The loan companies, collection agencies and credit issuers should submit a signed agreement on payment decisions. In other words, this makes them a party to the decree, and the agreement by them should be entered into the paperwork. It will help your attorney state your case to your spouse’s attorney, and if needed, to the presiding judge. Hopefully, these accounts will be placed solely on your spouse’s credit reports.
If this is a case of identity theft or large amounts of money due to collections or loans that are involved, you probably should have a divorce attorney working on the case rather than representing yourself without the aid of an attorney.
There is unfortunately no guarantee that you will have all of these accounts removed from your credit report, but the more evidence that you can gather to prove it was not you who applied for the lines of credit, the more it will help your divorce attorney argue your case.
Afterwards - After your divorce has been finalized, we suggest that you check your credit reports a few times a year to make sure that no more fraudulent activity is occurring. You can do this at www.annualcreditreport.com/ or by calling 877-322-8228.
If you are not willing or planning on filing for a legal separation or divorce:
If your spouse has forged your name on any credit application, without your knowledge or consent, you can file a police report for fraud and/or identity theft. However, in most cases, credit issuers will still consider this a joint account if you are not legally separated. Your only other option is to look into the Credit Freeze Program in your state. This way you can freeze all access to your credit reports so that nobody but you can open lines of credit using your SSN.
ITRC Fact Sheet FS 115 – When you Personally Know the Thief