Am I responsible for credit card account opened without my signature?

Full Question:

My wife opened a credit card account in both of our names without my knowledge. She passed away in May 2008. I never was aware of this account until she passed. Now the credit card company is holding me responsible and has applied negative marks to my credit rating. She used my name and SSN in opening the account. The card company cannot provide me with a signature card. Am I legally responsible for this debt? How do I go about contesting this? I have already had the attorney general from Indiana involved. They at least got Chase to respond with records of disbursements but no signature.
11/18/2009   |   Category: Debts and Cr... ยป Credit Cards   |   State: Indiana   |   #19681

Answer:

The information required on a credit card application is dependent upon several factors, one of which is the credit history of the person that is applying for the card. If you have little or no credit history, for example, you will probably have to have a good deal of information ready before applying. At the other end of the spectrum, you may have a large and detailed credit history. If it is good, an application for a new card may be “pre-approved” and require little or no additional information in order to open up a new account. For the average person with a typical credit history, however, you will generally need to provide some common pieces of information about yourself when applying for a credit card.

Typically, a credit card application will already have some information about you that the company already knows, such as your address, through which you were mailed the application in the first place. This is common, but is not always the case, as in a situation where you use the Internet and apply for a credit card online and must fill in all the data from scratch. An actual signature isn't possible with an online application. A paper application will usually require a signature, while an online application will often only require personal information and a "digital" signature. Many times this is simply clicking a box to confirm that you are who you claim to be. Other times, after applying online you will receive paperwork in the mail that must be physically signed and returned before you receive your card.

Your social security number is the most private piece of information that must be provided when opening a new account. It is quite possible for your spouse to know and use it to add you to the application.

The following provides a simple check list for understanding your right to challenge credit card charges such as charges for goods you never ordered; charges for goods that were never delivered; and charges resulting from clerical errors:

First, always check every credit card statement for any charges you do not recognize.
Call your credit card company to inquire about unrecognized charges. An unrecognized charge could be the result of a merchant using one name for billing and another name for advertising and selling. You can research company names at the Better Business Bureau's website (www.bbb.org). If you cannot attribute the charge to a personal purchase after speaking with the credit card company, you should file a dispute with the credit card company.
Always follow up a dispute you discussed over the telephone with a written dispute letter. You can find a sample dispute letter on the Federal Trade Commission's website at www.ftc.gov. Your written dispute should clearly identity your name, address, your account number, the charge in question and the reason behind your dispute. Any copies of supporting documentation you have (e.g. receipts should accompany this written dispute (do not send originals).
Your dispute letter should be mailed to the "billing inquires" address of your credit card company and must reach the company no later than 60 days from the date of the statement containing the disputed charge. Make sure to get a receipt for the mailing of your dispute letter (e.g. certified mail) so you have proof the creditor received your dispute on time.
The credit card company must acknowledge receipt of your letter within 30 days, and they must settle your dispute within 90 days after receiving your letter.
If you are not satisfied with the resolution of your dispute, you can appeal to the credit card company within 10 days of learning their decision, or you can pursue a remedy in small claims court against the credit card company.
Other rights related to disputed credit charges:

You have a right to withhold payment for any disputed charges on your credit card for the duration of the investigation of the dispute; however, if the credit card company determines the disputed charged was not an error, you can be held liable for the full amount of the charge and any finance charges that may have accrued during the investigation.

Under federal law, you are only liable for up to $50 of unauthorized charge (e.g. a charge by a thief).
You are not entitled to an extensive investigation of your disputed credit card charges; credit card companies need only "reasonably" investigate your dispute. Your credit charge history and any documentation you provide with the dispute (signed affidavits, police reports, etc.) are likely to be the only information utilized in assessing your dispute.