Ask The Consumerists: What Do I Do About Credit Cards I Never Requested?

Beau has a question about what to do in response to receiving some credit cards he never asked for:

I’ve gotten two of these unwanted cards in the last 12 months after signing up with two different financial institutions for two different reasons. The first was a mortgage I signed, the second for a business checking account where I was the primary account user. I’ve worked hard all my life to maintain good credit, and I don’t want these things to affect my excellent rating. What should I do now?

Read Beau’s letter and our advice, inside.

Beau writes:

Hi, Consumerist!

I’m writing to see if you’ve got any advice about how to deal with credit cards being sent without applying or requesting them. I’ve gotten two of these unwanted cards in the last 12 months after signing up with two different financial institutions for two different reasons. The first was a mortgage I signed, the second for a business checking account where I was the primary account user. I’ve worked hard all my life to maintain good credit, and I don’t want these things to affect my excellent rating. What should I do now?

In August of last year, I bought a house and got my mortgage through First Horizon. I went the traditional route and got a mortgage through an agent in my area in person, rather than doing it online. But I did my homework and they matched what I could find on the Internet, so I was happy with it. When filling out the paperwork, I specifically asked my agent not to disclose my information to anyone that she wasn’t legally obligated to. She assured me that it wouldn’t happen and that they were very careful about that kind of thing.

Everything went smoothly I anticipated, but a couple of months later I received a new credit card from one of First Horizon’s sister companies. I immediately called the customer service number and asked them to make it right by getting rid of my account and contacting the 3 credit services to make sure it didn’t appear on my credit report. They said that they would make sure it happened and apologized. I also contacted my agent and her office to find out what had happened. They apologized several times and assured me that it must have been some kind of mistake at the main office because they don’t apply for a credit card on behalf of the borrower unless they request it.

Fast forward to two weeks ago, when I requested my credit reports to make sure that everything was as it should be. I was able to view one online and the other two had to be mailed to me for some reason. The Experian and TransUnion reports were as they should be. On Thursday or Friday, I got the Equifax report and the First Horizon card was listed as “Cancelled at Customer’s Request.” I had a busy weekend planned, so I figured I’d start the dispute this week.

Today (Monday), before I even had a chance to dispute the First Horizon problem, I got another unwanted card in the mail! This time, it was from Washington Mutual Bank. About 6 months ago, I started a business and set up a business checking account for it. They had to have a primary user, so I gave them my name and address. But I never applied for nor requested a credit card. Actually, I asked that the ATM card NOT be a debit card for various reasons. Now, for no reason, they sent me a credit card.

So what do I do now? My first instinct is to cancel this one, put a lock on my credit reports, and report the incidents as fraud to the FTC or whichever body oversees these kinds of things. Then shoot off emails to anyone I can think of at the two companies who might listen. And if I am still angry about it, to sue in small claims court for the cost of credit protection services for the next 7 years until these things come off my credit. But that seems pretty extreme and I want to see if there is a better way to go about it. What’s the word, Consumerist, what is the best thing to do here?

Good news, Beau. Since you’ve done business with these companies and are not receiving credit cards or credit card statements from random institutions, ID Theft is unlikely. This is extremely good news, because simply opening two credit cards shouldn’t have much of an impact on your credit score, even if you’re unable to get the entries removed from your score.

So, while this may be annoying, it shouldn’t really affect your life. Here’s what we would do. You’ve already done most of it.

1) Get your credit reports. You can use http://www.annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228 to get one free report per year. If you’ve already used up your free report, you can request another one if you believe it may be inaccurate because of fraud.

2) Contact your lender with a formal complaint. You can do this in writing, or by email. Keep a copy of this complaint for your records.

3) If your lender doesn’t respond in a way that makes you happy, you can file a complaint with the bank’s regulatory agency. This may be the FTC, The Department of Thrift Supervision, The Comptroller of Currency…or a few more.

You’ll need to figure out which agency regulates your lender by calling or using FDIC’s Bank Find. For example, Washington Mutual’s primary regulator is the Office of Thrift Supervision.

4) Write a formal complaint letter to the bank’s regulatory agency. Follow the FTC’s instructions for writing a complaint. This document also has the correct contact information for the various regulatory agencies. Keep a copy of this complaint for your records.

5) Dispute inaccuracies on your credit report. Follow the FTC’s guidelines.

In your letter you mentioned suing WaMu in small claims court for the cost of credit monitoring and freezing your credit report. A freeze will prevent creditors from getting your credit score, or new employers from doing a background check on you. It also costs $10. You really don’t need this. As far as suing your bank, that’s really not necessary.

If you’ve kept your credit score as bright and shiny as you imply you have, a little new credit might not hurt you. In fact, it might even help your score, depending on your profile. So you really need not worry. You can always take your business elsewhere if WaMu has lost your confidence. Good luck. —MEGHANN MARCO

(Photo: Meghann Marco)