What does it take to get a credit card in America?
When I was living in Seattle (well, technically a suburb called Kirkland) I used to get a lot of pre-approved credit card offers. I don’t mind junk mail as long as it is easy to visually sort. I had a wood-burning fireplace and junk mail provided a few extra BTUs of free heat in winter. Most credit card offers came in gaudy envelopes. Whoosh right in the fireplace. Discover Card, however, put their offers in plain white envelopes without anything on the outside of the envelope to identify the mail was coming from Discover Card. The only thing printed on the envelope (besides my address and a nondescript, generic return address) was a small warning that time sensitive information was in the envelope and it should be opened right away. It appeared, for all intents and purposes, like an important notice from the government. Being a foreigner in America post-9/11 and with a green card application in process that appeared to have been shelved following 9/11, I was rather sensitive to making sure I didn’t miss anything coming from the government about staying in compliance with my H1B visa or things I might have to do for my green card.
Of course, when I opened this nondescript envelope it turned out to be yet another Discover Card pre-approval offer. Hrmph. These mailings seemed to come once a week or once every other week. I started to become offended that Discover Card was, in a sense, trying to not only get past my snail-mail spam filter but was moderately alarming me that something important was in this envelope. Their marketing practices were quite deceptive.
I started to devise a plan to get back at them.
I used to enjoy taking those postage paid return envelopes and turning junk mail into, literally, junk mail. I’d fill them with used batteries, unmatched socks, used Kleenex, stuff I really wanted out of my life, and I’d mail it back to the sender, on their dime. Of course, post-9/11 one has to be careful about what one mails. A biohazard or a few dead alkaline batteries in an envelope one does not expect to contain batteries could pretty much shut down mail delivery in the Pacific Northwest for weeks. Scratch that.
Once in a while someone gets the idea that you can put a new address label over the address of those postage paid envelopes and send your friends birthday cards courtesy of Publisher’s Clearing House. While that sometimes works, I’ve got it to work (in Canada at least), one should not ever try to send anything valuable or you earnestly hope gets to the intended recipient. I know that sounds like obvious advice but like how a book of matches will have a warning like “don’t light if you’re wearing a suit made out of potassium nitrate touch-paper” and you think no one would do that but someone eventually does it and the match company gets sued for a billion dollars, well, I worked at a tax software company and saw the equivalent involving a postage paid envelope.
At my tax software company, we used to send out renewal notices for the home version of our program and included a postage paid return envelope. We’d get a lot of these and we had a little machine that automatically sliced open the envelopes. It was efficient and had this nice razor sharp slicing blade. You sure wanted to obey the machine’s warning label about not using it for clipping toenails or as a personal hair care device. Our receptionist (who was coincidentally Roseanne from my previous post about job scams) was charged with the task of running the renewal envelopes through the slicing machine. Not really paying attention to one envelope that seemed extra stuffed, Roseanne ran it through and the slicing machine kind of didn’t take kindly to the unexpected girth and sort of shredded the contents and jammed up the machine quite nicely. We pulled the envelope out, tearing the contents even more. The contents turned out to be several thousands of dollars in saving bonds and a note from the mailer to his lawyer instructing him what to do with the bonds. The bonds were now in several pieces. The postage paid envelope had been rather sloppily readdressed to his lawyer. I guess the post office, in full dereliction of their customary dereliction, actually managed to get it to the people paying for the postage, not the hand scrawled address.
The manager of our home tax product taped up the works as best he could and mailed it back to the sender with some unneeded apology.
Right. So sending my girlfriend back in Canada mash notes in Discovery Card postage paid envelopes was off the table. That I would even consider the utility of this probably goes a long way in explaining why, at age 42, I’m still unmarried. I guess women like romance ‘n’ junk.
I decided I would just simply send the envelopes back empty. It would cost them money for the postage and it would cost them money, in terms of staff, to open empty envelopes. But then I reasoned that someone was also on staff to do the data entry for the completed application. This was no doubt time consuming. And what if I kept mailing back illegible applications? Someone would have to take a lot of time trying to read chicken scratch, slowing down the whole process, and costing Discover Card even more. So that’s what I did.
Below is a copy of the application form I sent. It would appear to me the only thing legible is a household income of $93.00 a year and I’ve been at my address for 5 years. Note the little “1″ footnotes that indicate “this information is required to complete this application”. It would appear information like a Social Security Number and Date of Birth are, in an ideal world, important to a credit granting agency.
Well, as the next image testifies, it would appear despite the stern warning you need an actual Social Security Number to get a Discover Card, this is in fact a lie. Discover happily issued me a card:
Should we be worried? I think so. Consider you can be rejected for credit by something called “too many inquiries”. Every time you apply for credit, this goes on your credit report. If it appears like you’re applying for credit here, there, and everywhere, a lending agency might be reticent to lend to you assuming you’re racking up unsecured credit like a man who has secret knowledge the world is going to end next year. Further consider you move and your old place of residence keeps getting these credit card offers. No problem, the new tenants have no knowledge of your Social Security Number, your birthday, your mother’s maiden name, etc. As my demonstration indicates, it seems they don’t have to know this information. They just have to draw cryptic symbols on a form and get a credit card in your name mailed to them. Assuming your new tenants don’t want to commit credit card fraud, they could still play havoc with your credit rating by simply racking up several credit applications. Maybe the new tenants have a grudge against you. They don’t like the weird smell you left in the fridge or the pentacle they found painted in the spare bedroom you called your “well of souls”.
– Karl Mamer
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