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This week, our criminal lawyers discuss a woman’s worry over her Mom’s fraudulent credit card debt.

The Question: Mom’s friend betrayed her trust and racked up 20K in credit card debt. What can we do? Is it time to lawyer up?

My mom has lived alone ever since us kids moved out. A year ago she took in her best friend and her daughter to fill the empty space we left behind. She also lent her friend he CC [credit card] for a couple of small-ticket purchases, out of generosity and wanting to help.

Recently, she called me wondering whether I had put some purchases on her card. I remember that she had paid off her CC’s [credit cards] over a year ago. Since then her CC’s [credit cards] racked up about $20K. Turned out her “best friend” had maxed out her own CC’s [credit cards] and then moved onto my mom’s.

I know it couldn’t have been mom – she goes to the local public school for free lunches and visits the museum on Friday evening when admission is free. She’s super frugal and she really has nothing to show for $20K.

Goes without saying that I’m really upset my mom’s desire to help was taken advantage of. She’s an immigrant with poor English, was lonely and trying to be helpful and appreciated. Her best friend was a lady we grew up with who I always thought to be energetic and helpful. Now I suspect she’s just hypo-manic and did what she had to to stick around and mooch off my mom’s kindness.

I’ll tread carefully, but I think this lady threw us under the bus and we need to do what we can to get to the bottom of what happened.

I’ve sent my mom to the bank to dispute all the charges she didn’t make, which apparently go back over a year.

Is it time to lawyer up? Any advice on what else we can or should do? Thanks for reading.

The Answer: First, contact your local authorities and file theft charges. Next, lawyer up to pursue civil action. Lastly, get your Mom’s friend to move out.

Start by contacting the credit card company to dispute the charges. She should report the theft to the police, too.

Technically, it is credit card theft and fraud by using the card without permission or being an authorized user on the account.

Even possible identity theft charges, since the friend “assumes” your Mom’s identity to use the credit card.

Next, lawyer up so your Mom can pursue a civil lawsuit against her friend to recoup the money spent on the credit card. The criminal case may go either way, in your Mom’s favor, or against it. An argument could be made that the friend had permission to use the card, seeing that your Mom initially allowed the use. The friend perceived the consent given as authorization to use the card when she needed to; a simple miscommunication.

A civil suit removes criminal accountability and strictly seeks financial responsibility for the money. Your Mom asks for her friend to pay back the money she spent, rather than accusing her of theft.

Lastly, the friend needs to get out of your Mom’s house. If she is not around your Mom, she cannot attempt to take advantage of her. Kindly ask her to leave the house and find other living arrangements.

Many options are at your Mom’s disposal to handle this problem. It just depends on how she wants to handle it. A criminal investigation and charges will surely end your Mom’s friendship, something she may not like. Taking civil action could keep the friendship intact by just asking for her friend to be financially responsible for the debt.

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Our automatic disclaimer: We’re lawyers, but not necessarily your lawyer, and do not represent the individual who asked this question. We’re providing this information for general educational purposes based on the publicly available information provided by the anonymous Internet user. Any number of details may change how this individual’s attorney may pursue this legal situation, differently from how we suppose above. If you have a similar question, then you should consult with a lawyer about your specific situation to get a “real” response!