Under the law, you can file a lawsuit for any tort, which is a wrongful or illegal act that leads to damages. If someone opens and uses a credit card in your name, you can sue for damages, but you won't be able to recover anything if you didn't suffer actual damages.
Can I Sue?
The legal barriers you have to overcome to file a lawsuit are relatively low. In fact, you can sue for virtually anything. The real questions are whether your suit will be dismissed and whether you can win. You'll have to assert a viable cause of action -- a violation under your state's laws that led to verifiable damages to you.
Will I Win?
To win your suit -- and avoid an early dismissal -- you'll have to show that you suffered damages as a result of someone else's decision to fraudulently open a credit card account in your name. If the account was never used or the bank quickly recognized the fraud and took no action against you, you don't have any damages. But if you had to pay for credit monitoring, your credit score was harmed or you lost money as a result of the fraud, you have damages.
What Can I Get?
In most cases, you can only sue for actual damages -- the costs you incurred as a result of the fraudulent credit card. These damages can include the original costs plus interest. You can also sue to recover attorney's fees and court costs. If you can show a pattern of negligence, particularly on the part of the bank that allowed the credit card to be opened, you may be able to file a class action lawsuit and recover punitive damages and a higher monetary award.
What About My Liability?
You're not liable for someone else's fraud, so your bank can't make you pay for purchases you didn't make. If, however, another person uses your credit card, you're liable for up to $50 if the purchases were made in person but nothing if they were made over the phone or online. Your cardholder agreement can provide you with additional information, because some credit cards offer zero-liability agreements.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.