AMEX Says You Closed Your Account While In Coma

According to the credit report, AMEX says Dan’s father-in-law closed a credit card he had with them while he was in a coma. Now Amex is using that to come after the mother-in-law for $15,000. Read the rest of the story, inside…

So it all began when Dan’s father-in-law died recently . Now AMEX is hounding the mother-in-law for the $15,000 due, apparently because they don’t want to have to go through the estate lawyer.

His mom was listed as an authorized user on the credit card. Under Alabama state law, authorized users are not responsible for the debt. Ah, but you’re the sole account holder says AMEX. When the family checked his credit report, they see that its listed that the father-in-law closed the account in September ’08. During all of September, the father-in law was in a coma.

Then on the mother-in-law’s credit report, there’s now an AMEX account that says it was opened in 1982…but not reported on the credit until September ’08.

It seems that so they could pursue the mother-in-law for the money and avoid dealing with the estate, AMEX closed the father-in-law’s account, then made a new account where the mother was solely responsible, and then transferred all the debt over to her. Now the aggressive and bullying collection calls have started.

“Isn’t this illegal and how should we proceed?” asks Dan.

(Photo: Clemson)


Edit Your Comment

  1. QuantumRiff says:

    First off, as part of the Fair Debt Collection Act, you may request that all contact with you (or in this case your mother) be in the form of US mail. Specifically state that they are not to call you. (Even better if you state to forward all communications with a lawyer, but that might get expensive). I would send them a Certified letter asking for proof of the debt, what it is for, when your mother opened an account with AMEX, when and how your father closed his, and to only contact you by certified mail. Then at a minimum, you have them saying in writing that they committed fraud. Their is lots of good info out there about the FDCA, read it, it has allowed me to really, really help out friends and family.

    • GreatWhiteNorth says:

      @QuantumRiff: … and by having them continue the fraud through the mail it would become Mail Fraud… isn’t there something special and interesting about mail fraud in the US?

    • Aevan says:


      Fair debt collection act only applies to third party collectors. If this is “AMEX” collecting their own debt, then it does not apply to them.

  2. rawsteak says:

    it sounds like identity theft, where someone takes your credentials and opens a credit card in your name. Except instead of buying a huge tv, they transferred all the debt they had over to the new credit card.

  3. formergr says:

    This is written somewhat confusingly, I’m not at all clear on what exactly happened and what the timeline of events was. Is it possible to post the original letter sent in by the OP?

    • blackmage439 says:


      Step 1: Step-father enters a coma.

      Step 2: Step-father dies.

      Step 3: Amex closes account with $15,000 in debt without authorization. The account was in the step-father’s name and had the mother as an authorized user. Amex claims the account was closed personally by the step-father… while he was in a coma.

      Step 4: Amex then opens the same account in the mother’s name to seemingly avoid the Alabama state law which considers authorized users to not be responsible for an account.

      Step 5: Credit report douchbaggery ensues. Amex begins collections calls against mother.

      Step 6: ?????

      Step 7: Profit!

      • MrThunderfield says:

        @blackmage439: Lol nice South park reference there!

        I’d be sooo pissed off if this would happen to me. Makes me happy I don’t live in the US.

      • chrylis says:

        @blackmage439: Now the question is… who profits?

        • ViperBorg says:

          @chrylis: AMEX. Or at least they are trying. I can see the wife making a nice sum against them for this crap.

        • rushevents says:

          @chrylis: No one would profit. Amex is already out the 15 grand.

          His estate would be responsible to pay the debt.

          She may have been listed as an authorized user but she is also his wife – does that allow Amex more leeway? I’m not familiar enough with the law dealing with credit and spouses.

  4. GreatWhiteNorth says:

    It would be interesting to have them produce an application form for the card with her as the primary cardholder…

    • Jack T Ripper says:


      They don’t need an application since the process of taking over an account is handled over the phone. There isn’t a paper application or any signatures involved. There are, however, disclosures that are read and every call is recorded, so the family better be really sure that they didn’t initiate this change before they persue a powerful bank like American Express.

  5. Tank says:

    i’d tell them to go ahead and sue me. if the story is true, they won’t be able to prove their case, they’ll lose, and it will be settled once and for all.

  6. sleze69 says:

    I am shocked and amazed. Is this crappy economy turning Amex into Capital One?!?

  7. zentex says:

    that looks like the AmEx Titanium in the photo, no?

    • GothamGal says:


      That is the AmEx Centurion. You must be touched by the hands of God to get one.

      On a side AmEx note, I received a letter from AmEx yesterday stating that they will be discontinuing the domestic airline partner program that they had for platinum cards.

      • ElaineGuinea pig says:


        I have one. No God required. Just spend $250,000 annually on your personal card and be willing to pay the fee for the Centurion Card. The card is made of titanium, which makes for an interesting conundrum when it expires and you try to cut it up….

  8. Mysterry says:

    WRITE a letter to AMEX AND all three credit companies. Request AMEX to support their claim that you owe them a debt (i.e. a copy of the signed credit card application, etc). Tell the three credit card companies to remove what AMEX has reported as it is untrue. 30 days for both AMEX and the three credit companies should be sufficient enough for them to give you prove and for them to take the reporting off of your credit report. If they do not take it off of your credit report, sue them–take them to small claims.

  9. frodo_35 says:

    The sad thing is by the time she stops their bs her credit could be ruined. RUN not walk to a lawyer ASAP.
    It is eaiser to stop bs from occuring then fix it after the fact.

  10. crouton976 says:

    Can anyone say AMEX=Epic Fail?

    Not only would I have the entire matter cleared up IMMEDIATELY, but I would then turn around and sue AMEX for fraud AND extortion. If Alabama state law says the she is not responsible for the debt, and AMEX opened an account without her permission and transferred the debt to that account, that’s fraud. Once they make the first phone call to collect, that becomes extortion. From the Wikipedia page on extortion…

    “Extortion, outwresting, or exaction is a criminal offense, which occurs, when a person unlawfully obtains either money, property or services from a person, entity, or institution, through coercion. Refraining from doing harm is sometimes euphemistically called protection. Extortion is commonly practiced by organized crime groups. The actual obtainment of money or property is not required to commit the offense. Making a threat of violence or a lawsuit which refers to a requirement of a payment of money or property to halt future violence or lawsuit is sufficient to commit the offense. Exaction refers not only to extortion or the unlawful demanding and obtaining of something through force, additionally, exact in its formal definition means the infliction of something such as pain and suffering or to make somebody endure something unpleasant.”

    I would hire a lawyer right away, do not pass go, do not collect $200…RIGHT NOW.

    • Fist-o™ says:

      @crouton976: Dude, I love wikipedia… but using it to shore up a legal case? That’s askin’ for a dismissal. ;)

    • Jack T Ripper says:


      That definition doesn’t define what is happening here. They aren’t illegaly trying to collect money. As far as the collection agency is concerned they are trying to collect a legitimate debt. Where in any of this are they threatening life and limb here? What is it that AMEX is holding over her head that would make you call it extortion? If you had any legal training at all then you wouldn’t be using wikipedia to cite your legal definitions, so my advice is not to believe everything you read. As a trained legal professional I can tell you that there is more than meets the eye here. The first thing American Express attorneys would do is prduce the recording of the call where the spouse and primary cardmember were both on the phone and authorized the switch in responsibility. This is not the sort of theing that American Express pulls on people, so I’m sure they will have no trouble defending themselves. What I think is going on is the wife doesn’t want to pay for her husbands debt even though she was around to enjoy the money that was loaned.

      Here’s the real kicker. Even if the wife didn’t want to take responsibility for the debt, the estate would still have to pay it. She isn’t getting out of this no matter who she sues. Amex will have it documented if she agreed to take over the account, but the only difference is that she can still use the card as the primary where she couldn’t have done that if she would have remained the additional. The difference for AMEX is that now they have a living person to go after versus going after the estate, but it isn’t any cheaper or more expensive to do it either way.

      What also doesn’t make sense is that she says it didn’t show up on her credit report until 2008. That could be for multiple reasons. The credit bureaus are not the most accurate companies in the world. They may just not have reported it for a couple months. Just because it appeared when he was in a coma doesn’t mean the transaction took place then. I had an account show up for the first time on my credit report six months after I opened it, so the date it shows up has no bearing whatsoever on the case.

      And again, out of all the banks out there, American Express is the last financial institution that would pull something like this. They are the most ethical bank out there right now. This sounds like the whining of someone who is bent that she actually has to pay back money that her husband borrowed. Big shocker there.

    • nerdychaz says:

      @crouton976: “Capitalism is indeed organized crime.” The Refused

  11. fisherstudios says:

    Well, just because you die doesn’t mean that your debt goes away. Otherwise I could take out a million dollar loan, give the money to my children, and then die and my family would never have to pay the money back – they would be set for life.

    So, I think that their family should be liable for the debt and the credit card company has every right to try to go after them to collect. Re-issuing the account in her name and saying the dead guy did it isn’t going to hold up but I think they have that family for the debt regardless of this fact.

    • MaxSmart32 says:

      @fisherstudios: Of course the debt is valid. The post states several times that it appear AmEx just didn’t want to go through the proper channels and get the money owed to them through the estate. No one is saying the debt isn’t valid…

    • floraposte says:

      @fisherstudios: As the article notes, his estate is liable for the debt. That’s not being denied. However, there are rules about precedence and probate in receiving money from an estate, and Amex is trying to subvert them in order to get their money faster. It would be fine and ironic if this ended up meaning they don’t get their money at all.

    • petermv says:

      @fisherstudios: They are not saying that the debt does not have to be paid, it should be paid from the estate, should there be one. AMEX appears to be trying to avoid dealing with the estate to reclaim the money by transferring the debt to an authorised user by closing the original account and opening up in the authorised users’s name.

    • aphexbr says:

      @fisherstudios: Apparently Alabama state law thinks otherwise. There is a specific law in place to protect people in this case, and AMEX are using some extremely underhanded techniques to avoid the law. Nobody’s claiming that AMEX are not entitled to try and recover the card balance, not that the family should have no liability. But, to commit this kind of fraud to avoid dealing the the estate lawyer is extremely low.

      It’s simple. If the account balance is recoverable by claiming against the dead guy’s estate, then do that. If not, then state law says they can’t claim against the additional card holder.

    • friendlynerd says:

      What you think and what the law thinks are different things, and I’m more inclined to care what the law has to say.

      If AMEX goes through the estate process as they are supposed to, it will be settled there.

    • Mollyg says:

      @fisherstudios: You are wrong. Family members are not, and should not be responsible for a relatives debt. This is a basic foundation of contracts, that third-parties can not be bound to a contract that they did not sign. The estate is liable, but that is all.

    • RunawayJim says:

      @fisherstudios: The estate is responsible for the debt. If the estate is being handled by an attorney, AMEX should have gone to the attorney, not the widow. However, depending on state law, once the estate is drained, the widow is only responsible for certain debt. When my step-father died, my mother got harassing calls from a collector from his credit card. They all said “I see he has an estate” and mentioned a checking account he had. These accounts were only in his name, not my mother’s. The checking account had a whopping balance of $5. My mother had worked with an attorney who told her she’s only responsible for any debt due to purchase of necessities. Since he racked up the debt on non-essentials, she wasn’t responsible. Eventually, they stopped calling her, realizing they lost their money.

    • mythago says:

      @fisherstudios: Your post is a perfect example of why you shouldn’t pretend to be a lawyer if you’re not one, even on the Internet.

    • johnnya2 says:

      @fisherstudios: Well actually you are wrong. The family is in NO WAY responsible for a persons debts unless they are co signers or joint accounts. The ESTATE could pay it if there is enough, but lets say I have a million dollar loan from AMEX. I die. They set up my assets and find I have nothing other than my personal belongings. Guess what AMEX, you shouldn’t have given that loan. In your screwed up version you think the family should be responsible, then where do you draw the line? A husband and wife die in a plane crash, do you go after their parents, their kids, or brothers and sisters? Should parents have to pay debts of grown children? In no situation would that be required or even be considered good policy.

    • bobcatred says:

      @fisherstudios: It’s a good thing you don’t make the laws then, because I’m sure that under your laws, there would be a lot of homeless families that were made to cover debts for gambling addicts and thieves.

    • BeFrugalNotCheap says:

      @fisherstudios: According to your logic, they should be able to dig up the guy and yank the gold fillings out of his teeth. Hell, why stop there? Go after the widow next.

  12. SaparnaSilkworm says:

    When an individual has a debt and dies, the debt passes to the estate of the individual. All properties of that individuals estate are used to settle outstanding obligations, generally starting with secured debt (mortgages) and moving down the list. Credit cards are just about last as I recall.

    Everyone in the family is NOT liable for the debt, only the debt holder’s estate. Now if the debt is jointly owned (she was a primary on the credit card) then she is liable for the debt.

    From the first pass at this – I would file a report with the AG, run to the estate lawyer and have them take care of it. (optional additional thing – hire a nice shark lawyer and counter claim for emotional damages for fraudulant debt collection)

    • Flame says:

      @SaparnaSilkworm: ummm….It’s a “nice shark lawyer” a contradiction in terms? I agree though, that she should go the estate lawyer. They are likely to have the information necessary to get AMEX to knock it off. However, I would also wonder if there actually is an estate. If this guy died without any significant assets, or a Will, then there wouldn’t necessarily be an estate to apply to. Which means that this could be the only way that AMEX would be likely to see any money.

      • BigBoat says:

        @Flame: They’re nice when they work for you. Also an estate is simply what you have left after you die. Assets, significant or otherwise, is your estate.

    • GiuseppeAttica says:

      she was only an authorized user or secondary on the card meaning he was the primary account holder (like when parents add on their children to their credit card accounts, same number different names on cards). she shouldn’t be responsible for any of his debts, but he was responsible for any debt she racked up.

  13. JeromeLiopleurodon says:

    fisherstudios … the ESTATE is on the hook for the debt, not the family.

    When you settle and estate, you pay off all debts and taxes first, even if it means you have to sell everything to do it. If the estate doesn’t have the money to repay, then the credit issuer is SOL. Estates can be bankrupt. and it means none of the family gets anything.

    Fraud is of course excluded in this, and your million dollar example would never work.

    If you read the OP, it looks like AMEX pulled this stunt to avoid having to go through the process. Unfortunately, laywering up sounds like the only way to get this resolved.

    • magicaliam says:

      I agree with you. It is the law as I understand it. But isn’t the article saying that Amex has oversteped the legal is trying creatively (to put it mildly)collect the debt? (And if I was a person who had lived a long life by being honest and following the laws, I would be very emotional about ruining my credit and therby my reputation I treasure- with collection calls or letters – and furhter finding AMEX said my husband closed the account while in a comma,etc. ) I agree the debt of the card holder should be sent to the estate. No problem there. But the article stated the wife/widow was ‘made responsible’ by a bunch of gombly guk (that doesn’t hold water) and is what AMEX tells her…..(and to worry her at a time like this is unconsciousable since she is not responsible – her husband’s estate is).
      “…she has repeatedly asked for something with her signature which they refused to give before threatening her credit and demanding she pay the balance. They are sure to mention “You are the only one on this account” and one collector/AMEX employee demanded to know who “X” was because “he is on the account also” – X being the son who was also an authorized user on the previous card.”

  14. MosesKabob says:

    I put my wife as an authorized user on my credit cards, and now those cards are showing up on her credit report, opened when I opened them years before I even knew her. I wasn’t really sure what to think about this, and the accounts were never closed and re-opened unless they did so and never told me (or did tell me in one of those phone-book-sized mailers I get sent every so often).

    I don’t know if this is legal or not, but that’s what’s happened.

    (new user, I love the username the site selected for me)

    • Verucalise (Est.February2008) says:

      @MosesKabob: Any authorized user gets the credit reported on their reports as well. I am an authorized user on my husbands cards, it shows up on my credit report as well.

      It’s almost like, co-signing in a way. This is a way that some people can build their credit when they don’t have a great enough credit score for a good card just in their own name.

      • sarkathstic says:

        @verucalise: Not necessarily true. I’m an authorized user on my boyfriend’s accounts and nothing shows up on my credit reports. When I worked at a department store in high school my mom was an authorized user on my account so she could get my discount and nothing showed up there either.

    • MsAnthropy says:


      All authorized users will have their cards (from any issuer) reported on their credit files with the date the account was opened – because that IS how long the account has been open. It’s perfectly legal, it’s how all card issuers report AU cards, and it can have the added benefit of giving someone a long and spotless credit history (and thus great FICO scores) when they’d otherwise have nothing too impressive on their credit reports at all.

      AmEx goes one step further, in that they report ALL accounts as being opened in the year the cardholder first established their relationship with AmEx (and the month the account was ‘really’ opened) – so if you had an AmEx card in the 1980s and then open another now, it will, if they can find record of the old account, report on your credit files as having been open since 1980-whatever. In most cases this is only a win-win situation for the cardholder, as it looks FANTASTIC on their credit reports.

      With authorized users, the same thing happens – the AU will have the opening date (year) of the primary cardholder’s FIRST card with AmEx showing on their credit reports – which can result in teenagers apparently having had an AmEx card for longer than they’ve actually been alive.

      ALL of the above is legal, and to the cardholder/AU’s benefit. But this story is about AmEx incorrectly (fraudulently? illegally? certainly EXTREMELY unethically) trying to make out that an AU is actually the primary cardholder in order to come after her for her late husband’s debt. And that is pretty disgusting.

  15. QuanikaJulisa says:

    A few years ago I had to deal with Amex to settle the estate of my wife. They were by far the most aggressive creditor I had to deal with. They immediately transferred the debt to a somewhat separate collections agency who became the only creditor who actually wrote and called me trying to get payment. They weren’t belligerent but they did everything they could to make sure they got paid back as much as possible. Luckily my name was never on the account, and we were separated at the time, and I had all the estate paperwork going through a lawyer. So they never tried to exceed their legal boundaries.

    Things are obviously a lot messier here because of Amex transferring the account into her name, and I’m not sure you can fix that by talking to the collections people. Lawyers could get expensive though – unless you find one who can write up a quick letter to scare Amex into quitting. You might start with writing to them yourself – get the names of some managers or executives – with documentation of how Amex appears to have fraudulently made her as the owner of the account, and strongly explain that you have no intention of paying this fraudulent debt and that if they don’t cease you will hire an attorney and see them in court.

  16. dougp26364 says:

    I think my first stop would be with the state’s attorney general to see if they’d like to look into the matter. If Amex has done something against the law there might be something that they can do.

  17. nightsky says:

    See, this is why all credit cards are the spawn of Satan! Debt free for 4 yeas and loving it!

    • nightsky says:

      *years@nightsky: *years* dumbass

    • Fist-o™ says:

      @nightsky: I agree. Well, just another reason they’re evil. Sure, you might have smooth sailing for years, even if you “always keep a zero balance, and screw THEM over by getting rewards points, while improving my credit score”. The times when they truly suck are when an anomoly happens, somebody falls through the cracks, and the evil slimy tentacles reach up and wrap themselves around the victim’s legs and start to pull…. “But I’ve always been a good customerrrrr….” *gulp*

      • Jack T Ripper says:


        It is my educated opinion that you’ll find more of these ‘anomolies’ with people who have proven to be irresponsible with their finances. I’ve been debt free for ten years other than my house and the ocassional short lived car loan AND I have two or three credit accounts that I use all the time. You don’t have to be in debt to use credit wisely and you aren’t going to fall through the cracks if you are responsible with your spending and accounting at home.

  18. Jack T Ripper says:

    I don’t think we have all the details here. It sounds to me like they contacted American Express at some point and went through the process of making her the primary on the account. American Express wouldn’t have known the card member was in a coma. They have millions and millions of card members and they aren’t targeting people like that. What probably happened is that the spouse called to add herself onto his account since he was ill and wasn’t able to use it. Whatever the conversation was, she was switched to the basic instead of being the additional. That would have required very specific disclosures that are read and those calls are all recorded. American Express is not the sort of company that would just switch someone on an account without authorization. It sounds to me like typical avoidance of responsibility if you ask me.

    • Azagthoth says:

      @ocdetails: Reread the entire post. Of course Amex didn’t know the father was in a coma, that is why we know they are full of it.
      1. Amex claims that the FATHER closed the account while he was in the coma.
      2. The mother was obviously an authorized user already, she was his spouse after all.
      3. American Express IS the sort of company that would just switch someone on an account without authorization.

    • Krobar says:

      @ocdetails: You have a point, but it’s not like they couldn’t back date the information. Like they did with when her account was “opened” on her credit report…

    • mythago says:

      @ocdetails: So you’re perfectly happy to call the OPs scheming liars because AMEX is ‘not that kind of company’? Do you also believe they are the kind of company that will simply add people to a coma victim’s credit account on the basis of a phone call?

      • Jack T Ripper says:


        Who said it happened when he was in a coma? It just says that it was reported to the CBR when he was in a coma. It could have happened weeks before that and it just had to wait till the creditor sent it in. Most creditors don’t report to the bureaus on a monthly basis. Some only report once a quarter in fact. You are also assuming that there wasn’t any fraud on the “victim’s” behalf too. The cardmember racked up $15,000 worth of debt that his widow couldn’t pay back, so clearly there was some irresponsible behaviors being demonstrated already. Who says that they didn’t just get someone else to say they were the cardmember on the phone? All they are going to ask for is the SSN and DOB anyway. Surely nothing his widow or family wouldn’t have access to.

        • mythago says:

          @ocdetails: RTFA. AMEX says the dad closed the account. At the time they say he closed the account, he was in a coma.

          Is your best argument *really* that AMEX is irresponsibly adding people to members’ accounts based on a phone call?

          Really, when you have to invent crazypants facts and ignore the article to make your arguments come out OK, it’s time to go home.

  19. humphrmi says:

    What in the wide, wide world of sports is a-goin’ on here? I know times are tough right now, but Amex used to be the gold standard of customer service, even through recessions. Did they hire some methadone addicted freak to the C-Suite handling customer service?

    • West Coast Secessionist says:

      @rushevents: Re: stick it to the man

      Couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch of scumbags (American Express).

      No, in fact I don’t subscribe to a code of ethics where even scumbags deserve to get paid back. Thus, I get to laugh when they get screwed.

    • West Coast Secessionist says:

      @humphrmi: AMEX is no longer the good guy. I’ve posted what they did to me too many times, so let’s just suffice it to say that while I used to consider them cool, hip, and customer-friendly, now it’s obvious that they’re just garden-variety credit sharks.

      Their ridiculous annual fees are the most hilarious part. As though I couldn’t get all the “benefits” they offer with a REAL credit card accepted pretty much everywhere (V/MC), and which I can still pay off every month and incur no interest OR annual fees.

  20. rushevents says:

    (The following comment does not reflect on the person in the story as they look as if they do want to repay the account through the proper channels)

    The part that bothers me about many of the posts is the “Stick it to the Man!” style comments.

    In a marriage there is no such thing (really) as his debt and her debt.

    Long story short, when a spouse dies owing money you can throw the “estate” word around as a shield lot but the money has been spent, is still owed and not repaying is STEALING plain and simple.

    • MaxSmart32 says:

      @rushevents: Who on earth said that they don’t want to re-pay it? No one here is saying the debt isn’t valid. You also make a rather large leap in saying that it is mutual debt. Unless you are the woman in question, or a close family member, there is no way you could know what that $15k was for.

      It boils down to businesses having to follow the same rules that we as consumers have to follow. Sure, it would be nice if we could just re-arrange a few little things here and there to make everything just seem “right” in a situation with a bank, a credit card, a store, but we can’t. We have to wade through the red-tape to get the end result we want, so the AmEx needs to bite the bullet and do the same.

    • Trai_Dep says:

      @rushevents: Try RTFA, plz?

      His mom was listed as an authorized user on the credit card. Under Alabama state law, authorized users are not responsible for the debt.

      • JeffMc says:

        @Trai_Dep: You’re kidding right? You’re telling him to RTFA when you didn’t bother reading his post?

        @rushevents: I have to disagree. When it comes down to adults entering contracts I don’t think that someone has to be responsible for their spouse’s debts. Perhaps if she was benefitting from these debts there’d be some sort of moral reasoning for her to assume the debt but I’m on the “stick it to the man” side there because we all know that Amex wouldn’t follow the moral path if it was clear legally if the tables were turned.

        • JiminyChristmas says:

          @JeffMc: While I know jack about the marital property laws of the State of Alabama; in the overwhelming majority of circumstances debts and assets accrued during a marriage are equally held by both spouses. So, while you may disagree with the concept, that’s typically the law.

          Likewise, I’m not sure the ‘authorized users are not liable for the debt’ would apply in these circumstances. That would apply in a situation where, for example, a parent made their child an authorized user of one of their cards. Parents are not liable for the debts of their adult children, and vice versa.

          • SJActress says:

            What Jiminy said. I think “authorized users are not liable” does not mean a spouse is absolved; it doesn’t override spousal responsibility.

            For instance, I can open a card and add Joe Schmoe to it as an authorized user, rack up $15,000 and disappear. The card company can’t go after Joe Schmoe, because he has no legal responsibility otherwise. My spouse WOULD (in most states, I assume).

            Anyway, this story is definitely a case for an estate lawyer to wade through.

            • mythago says:

              @SJActress: WTF? If the law says “not liable” that means NOT LIABLE. It does not mean there is a Yeah But But They’re Married! exemption.

              If your spouse opens a credit line in his or her own name without your knowledge, spends $15,000 on hookers and blow, and then gets hit by a card, is it cool with you if the credit-card company sues you for the money, even if the law says they can’t? You’re all about spousal responsibility, right?

    • Corbin123 says:

      @rushevents: how can it be “STEALING” if she is not legally obligated to pay the debt? You may think it is wrong to not pay debts other people close to you have taken on (which is a ridiculous position imo), but it is not “STEALING.” Quit being so overdramatic; you aren’t the morality police.

  21. ARPRINCE says:

    It most likely that they sent the wife a new credit card under her name not knowing that the ownership of the account was transferred to her. She then validated the account and used it. But that’s just an assumption. Either way, it was a little tricky for AMEX to do such a thing.

  22. hills says:

    Could it be possible that the amex agreement states that if the primary cardholder dies, then the additional cardholder is made the primary by default, and then responsible for the bill?

    Either way, yes, it seems a little shady and a round-about way to get paid, but if the husband had a $15,000 credit card bill (or even a $15 credit card bill) the wife should pay it and move on.

  23. Trotsky says:

    Amex really are the scumbags of the CC industry. I was an authorized user on a Business account and when the business went belly up they went after me. I have tried to deal with them and the scummy collection agencies they keep sending (up to 10!). Me and a few other ex-employees have finally filed…. we will see where that gets us. I am honestly not surprised at this, as it is what I have been dealing with.

  24. SunitiKapis says:

    This is “Dan.” These are the facts I have available:

    1. The account was opened prior to the marriage.
    2. After marriage, both the wife and son were added as “authorized users” and this is reflected on the credit report of both. You are either an “Authorized User” or an “Individual Responsible.”
    3. Father-in-law went into a coma late August.
    4. Father-in-law died early September
    5. Mother-in-law started receiving collection calls mid-September.
    6. Mother-in-law told the creditors that he had died, mailed copies of death certificate, and told them to close the accounts.
    7. She is told throughout the process she is an ‘authorized user’ and cannot have information on the accounts. They will go through the estate lawyer (like they are supposed to).
    8. At this point, AMEX shows on her credit report as running her credit twice. 9/12/2008 and 10/3/2008, first for an account review, the second as American Express Co. These are the only credit requests this year outside of when she requested her credit report.
    9. Both accounts on which she is listed as “authorized user” are now listed as “closed at grantors request 9/08.”
    10. A new account is listed as “Open/Never Late 12/1982” (which is prior to their marriage) – however Reported Since, Date of Status, and Last Reported are all 09/2008. In addition – balance history is assigned back to 2007.

    She has requested documentation only to be told “we don’t keep that” and she has repeatedly asked for something with her signature which they refused to give before threatening her credit and demanding she pay the balance.

    They are sure to mention “You are the only one on this account” and one collector/AMEX employee demanded to know who “X” was because “he is on the account also” – X being the son who was also an authorized user on the previous card.

    Steps I am taking:
    1. Reported to Estate Laywer
    2. Filing AG reports in both Alabama and Florida
    3. Filing BBB reports on AMEX
    4. Spreading the news (on sites like this).

    She has absolutely no problem paying what ‘she’ owes, and as the estate process proceeds there is a procedure that creditors can go to in order to get their money or a pro-rated portion of it.

    She is 60 years old and doesn’t use any credit cards outside of one that she pays off every month. She didn’t even know she was listed as an authorized user on many of the accounts we’ve been informed of.

    Much of the spending on these accounts was done without her knowledge regardless, and just because a husband runs himself into debt doesn’t make it a joint debt Regardless, the card was opened prior to the marriage and AMEX looks extremely stupid listing it on her credit report with an open date prior to the marriage.

    • BeFrugalNotCheap says:

      @SunitiKapis: After all is said and done…AMEX can’t really do anything, right? I mean, beyond the amusing collection calls full of idle threats and fire & brimstone collectors. Alabama is’nt a litigation state so AMEX will eventually have to give up?

    • BeFrugalNotCheap says:

      @SunitiKapis: BTW, Dan. PLEASE keep us updated. There have been one or two stories on this site that never got followed up. Thanks and best of luck.

      • magicaliam says:

        I sincerly hope to get an update – If Amex is doing this to her,they are doing it to others..and will continue to do it! …If there is Not a follow up, I will forget this matter – so please, do let me know of updates – I don’t start rumors…we have enough half truths flying – I don’t pass on info until I know the full story. Story will not be complete without your follow up – I will not join in the cyntitism of downing AMex UNLESS I AM ASSURED this is happening – Then I’ll be BIG on the bandwagon if true…Count me in on passing the story on,yelling, letter writing & spreading this IF YOU FOLLOW UP up and it’s provable.

    • magicaliam says:

      I’m really disturbed by this. It sounds like a circumvention of the law. Is Amex starting to take advantage – bend the law- by going after someone besides the person who entered into the agreement with them? My card agreement with them holds me(the card holder) libable. I have added people to my AMex (after being told I would be liable for any of their charges). I have only added family I trust to have a card. But, I was told that if they abused it, I would be responsible per AMEX. No credit was run on them and no contract between them and AMEX _ if I didn’t pay or died, I knew my estate would be billed whenever estate is settled.
      I am wondering if our financial situation is encouranging AMEX to attempt to ‘pull the wool’ over the consumer’s eyes? – I don’t want to accuse AMEX – so I am hopeful this story is followed up on. If this practice is going on – it needs to be investigated and AMEX needs a slap – the poster seemed to be sincere, but I would like the facts verified- then my public outrage will start for sure!

  25. photomickey says:

    Th frnt pg lds t th fct tht f n clcks thrgh, y’ll gt th rst f th stry. clckd, nd crtnly gt Dn’s sd f th stry (gn). Bt stll dn’t s th “rst f th stry”.

  26. Trai_Dep says:

    This is blatant fraud on the part of Amex, and I hope that as soon as a judge takes a glance at this, s/he liquidates all debts to teach them a lesson.
    Brownie points for treble damages and court costs. And a world-class scathing opinion.

  27. Sudonum says:

    My mother died (in CA) with an outstanding balance due to AMEX. The estate lawyer sent out notices to all creditors advising them of the death (with a certified copy of the death certificate). CA law states that the creditors then have 12 moths to file a claim against the estate. AMEX failed to do that (hell most of her creditors failed). Almost 2 years after my mothers death I get a notice from a collection agency looking for AMEX’s money. Gave the contact information for the estate attorney, haven’t head a word back.

    • Pious_Augustus says:


      Thing is most 3rd party collection agencies might get that notice years later and might be a problem for you just also note you might be sending death certificate’s of your mother around for a long time.

      • Sudonum says:

        The notice was sent to AMEX who was the holder of the debt at the time. AMEX then sold the debt to a third party collector, even though they had to have known, legally, the debt was uncollectible. The estate has no legal responsibility to send any third party collector a death certificate when the original debt holder was notified and they failed to file a claim against the estate. All my attorney has to do is send them a copy of the letter he sent AMEX and quote the applicable CA law.

        Now if a debt pops up that we didn’t know about, and we failed to notify the debt holder, that’s a different story.

  28. Pious_Augustus says:

    I am usually very critical when it comes to debtors and the like but it seems in this situation there is some impropriety. Now typically I would say she owes the debt and obviously I would warn anyone and everyone before they co-sign with anyone, DO NOT PUT YOUR CREDIT OR LIFE AT RISK WITH ANYONE ELSE. Bottom line, if you co-sign with someone and that card goes into the red your responsible.

    And what sometimes happens also especially with bank NSF fees sometimes a boyfriend and girlfriend decide to get an account together. Either or goes into the red, let’s say if one of those people also co-signed with someone else sometimes that bank will go after the money owed from another account you could also put another person in debt because you co-signed with someone who couldn’t balance a check book.

    My biggest recommendation on this one is to go talk to a lawyer and weight your options. If your just an authorized card user I wouldn’t worry about much but I would see get a lawyer too see damages.

    If you’re a co-signer a lawyer is a perfect step to know if you don’t owe the debt and also to seek damages.

    MOST IMPORTANTLY; Regardless of the situation whether you owe the debt or not get a lawyer because if they created an account where it makes you the sole owner of the account and it’s different from the previous account used from the dead debtor then you need to know your options and if what they did was right.

    On a case like this I am going to warn you to be wary and seek out consul on this matter for your own sake.

    Please remember if you do by law own this debt because you co-signed then work out an arrangement with your creditors to possibly settle. Depending on how old the debt is you might be able to get it in half or possibly get a 60%, 70% settlement on this debt

  29. Ronin-Democrat says:

    How did they know to transfer to your mom -did they know dad’s circumstances-?
    DO NOT say you will hire a lawyer in your initial letter. this would telegraph your strategy/tactic to them.
    DO write directly to the ceo of amex and state facts as a layman would and point out how this bad press and will look.
    DO write the credit bureaus and contest the updates
    DO contact the AG immediately -they’re looking to beat up financial orgs right now-
    DO contact estate lawyers and or lawyers with credit card/finance experience
    DO get copy of the alleged credit card application

  30. drdom says:

    I’m not accusing anyone involved of anything. However, when one reviews the issues presented, something is missing from this story. Amex does billions of dollars worth of business every year, and would likely not risk their business and reputation, and commit outright fraud for $15K. I can find no record of any court case for the last 7 years where someone has alleged Amex has engaged in this type of conduct. If something like this had happened before surely someone somewhere would have engaged in litigation or subjected Amex to some type of regulatory action or review.
    The person who reported this also seems honest and sincere as well. Is it possible that someone with POA closed the account? There is some detail somewhere here that has to be missing.

    • mythago says:

      @drdom: “I can find no record of any court case for the last 7 years where someone has alleged Amex has engaged in this type of conduct.”

      Are you trying to claim that you searched the dockets of every court in the entire United States, as well as every arbitration action (AMEX’s agreement likely requires binding arbitration)?

  31. BeFrugalNotCheap says:

    I work in collections for a major CC company and have called more than one elderly lady who *AGREED* to let her deadbeat grand-daughter and her out of work hubby open a credit card in her name with the promise that “Oh, we’ll pay you back”. What about going after THOSE people instead of a widowed old woman?

  32. HiEllie says:

    Demand that AmEx produces copies of any forms or conversations from the closing of the account and of the mysterious 1982 account. If they can’t produce it, they can suck it.

    • Pious_Augustus says:


      By right, you can request 1 proof of a debt but once they prove the debt is real by law to protect the debtor and creditor they have the right to demand payment in full without settling the debt at a percentage off

  33. Loki_Monster says:

    Alabama law may provide that an authorized user is not responsible for the debt, but Alabama law likely does not control. Every credit card agreement has a choice of law provision. What state’s law applies per the choice of law provision, and is she responsible under that state’s law? AmEx may be doing absolutely nothing wrong here.

    Read your credit card agreements people.