Elderly woman gets errant $19,000 Macy's bill

June 1, 2010 7:03:12 PM PDT
What if you received a bill for something you did not buy? That is what happened to one Bay Area woman who was told to pay thousands.

This case shows how easily someone can use your identity to make purchases over a long period of time without you even knowing it until the bill collector comes knocking.

Lorene Pounds, 86, has not shopped at Macy's in years. So, she was mystified when out of the blue, the store called and said she owed thousands of dollars on her Macy's credit card.

"I said, 'What you mean? How much I owe?' She said, '$19,000.' I said, 'No, I haven't been in the store.'"

Pounds could not figure out how she could owe any money, much less $19,000, but the store kept calling. Pounds kept saying she does not have an account.

"I owe you nothing because you don't have my signature on nothing and you have never sent me a bill," Pound said. "I've never had a bill from them."

Macy's sent the case to its collections department, which sent Pounds a letter saying she racked up $19,791 in charges and she had better pay $3,811 of it right away.

"How can you say I owe you when I haven't received a bill?" she asked.

Macy's said the bills were going to a different address. That is how Pounds figured out what was going on.

"I said, 'That's where my daughter lives. I don't live there,'" she said.

Turns out Pounds' grown daughter had opened the account using her mother's identity. The daughter was making payments until she died of cancer last November. When payments stopped, Macy's tracked Pounds down.

ABC7 legal analyst Dean Johnson says, "The general rule is parents aren't liable for the debts of their adult children."

Johnson says no one can be held responsible for debts they did not agree to, especially if their name was used fraudulently.

"There are lots and lots of people out there who get that surprise letter in the mail saying 'Dear sir or madam, you owe thousands and thousands of dollars in debt for something you don't know about, don't have anything to do with, never heard of,'" he says. "And, it's called identity theft."

Pounds kept telling Macy's she had not signed a credit card agreement and Macy's kept demanding payment.

"That's when I called Channel 7, because Michael Finney's always to the rescue," Pounds said.

7 On Your Side contacted Macy's. A customer service manager spoke with Pounds right away, and after reviewing the case, told her she was off the hook. All $19,000 worth of charges was gone.

"She said, 'OK we won't have you be responsible for this bill.'"

Macy's would not discuss details of the case, saying only, "A customer with questions or concerns is best-served talking and working directly with Macy's rather than through an intermediary. Credit accounts involve confidential information and we respect the privacy or our customers."

Pounds was happy she worked with 7 On Your Side nonetheless.


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