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The People’s Lawyer – Be careful if you give your credit card to a friend

Richard M. Alderman Interim Dean of the Law Center

Richard M. Alderman
Interim Dean of the Law Center

Q. A little less than a year ago I let a former friend use my credit card to buy a new tire. I couldn’t go with her, so I just told her to take the card and have them call me if there were any issues. No one called, so I assumed it all went well.
I saw her the next day at church and asked her how it went and she confessed to me that instead of getting one tire they talked her in to all four. I didn’t know how to react or if to even cry, because at that time my personal car needed new tires and she practically maxed out my credit card. I told her she would have to pay me back ASAP because it would affect my credit. Next month she deposited $70 into my account, and since then has paid nothing. Now my credit card company charging late fees and interest. Do I owe this money? What can I do to get her to pay me ASAP?

A. Letting another person use your credit card can be dangerous. As far as the law is concerned, when you give someone your credit card to use you generally are responsible for whatever they charge, even if it is in excess of what you agree to. You may have agreed that your friend would buy just one tire, but that agreement is between you and your friend, not the credit card company. You should not entrust your credit card to anyone, unless you are willing to be responsible for whatever they purchase.
You do, however, have a claim against her for the full amount she charged. But forcing her to pay you back ASAP will be difficult. The best immediate solution is to convince her to promptly reimburse you, or begin substantial partial payments. If she does not, your only legal remedy is a suit in justice court. Justice court is the real people’s court and it does process claims quickly, but you are looking at several months before any suit is resolved, and if she disputes your claim it could take much longer.
More importantly, even after you win in court collecting what you are owed can be difficult. The court will award a judgment in your favor that can be filed, but you them must begin collection efforts. In Texas, most of what a person owns is “exempt” and not subject to the judgment. For example, you cannot garnish wages or take most personal property or a home. One option is to garnish a bank account, if you know where she banks. To see what options you have after winning in court, and how to collect, look at the debt collection section on my website, www.peopleslawyer.net.

Q. You have written that I get up to three times my damages if someone violates the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Can I sue for these damages without an attorney in justice court?

A. The Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act is our state’s consumer protection law. As I have written in the past, this law protects you if you are misled or deceived, or if there is a breach of warranty or unconscionability.
Under the Deceptive Trade Practices Act, you are entitled to recover your economic damage plus up to three times your damages if you show the person acted “knowingly.” This means that the person knew or should have known he was acting wrongfully. For example, if someone makes an innocent misrepresentation, you are not entitled to three times your damages. On the other hand, if the person knew or should have known that what he said was false, the court could award additional damages. Any court, including justice court, may award what is usually referred to as “treble damages.” If you prove your case and show that the person acted “knowingly,” the justice in small claims court may award you treble damages.

Q. Is an oral lease valid? My landlord says it is not. He now wants to raise my rent, and increase the security deposit.

A. As a general rule, agreements dealing with real estate, including a lease, must be in writing to be enforceable. Under Texas law, however, a residential lease for a year or less does not have to be in writing to be valid. If you have an oral lease for a year or less it is as binding as a written one. Of course, you must prove the existence of the agreement and its terms.

To learn more about your legal rights, visit my website, www.peopleslawyer.net


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