What Should I do if I Get a Credit Card That I Didn’t Request in the Mail?

If you get a random, unsolicited credit card in the mail that you didn’t apply for, here’s what to do.

Question

I recently received a “replacement” credit card in the mail. But I closed this credit card account years ago and didn’t apply for a new card. I don’t want it. Is this legal? What should I do?

Answer

Under Regulation Z, which implements the Truth in Lending Act, it’s illegal for a credit card company, store, or other entity to send you a credit card you didn’t request. (12 C.F.R. § 226.12). So, most companies don’t send out straight-forward unsolicited cards. But some companies try to get around the law by sending “replacement” credit cards for accounts that are no longer active. Sending these types of cards, if unsolicited, still violates the law.

However, if your card is active, or if you made an oral or written request for the card, a company may send a replacement card—even if the new card is usable at more stores or has different features. And, occasionally, a bank might issue a credit card in error.

What to Do if You Get an Unsolicited Credit Card

Don’t just throw an unsolicited card in the trash. Unfortunately, it’s possible that someone applied for the credit card in your name, which means you’re a victim of identity theft. If that’s the case—or you have any other reason to suspect identity theft—you’ll need to take steps to prevent further fraud on other accounts. For one thing, you should immediately place a freeze on your credit files.

Also, you'll need to close the account. If you don't, your credit file might show that you have an account with an open line of credit. Some creditors won’t extend credit to people they believe already have too much credit. Having an unused account could be grounds for denying you future credit or limiting increases on existing accounts.

Closing the Account

Before you cut up and toss the card, make a copy and then call the issuer. But don’t call the activation phone number on the sticker on the front of the card. You’ll probably reach an automated system, and you might not be able to talk to a representative. Instead, contact the customer service number or the fraud department. Inform the representative who you speak to that:

  • you believe the company sent you the unsolicited card in violation of the law
  • you don’t want the card
  • the company must cancel the account, and
  • it must provide you with written evidence that it did not—and will not—report the account to any credit reporting agency.

Send a Confirmation Letter

After you call, send a confirmation letter (by certified mail, return receipt requested) to the company. Keep a copy for your files, along with information about the credit card, like the account number and name on the account.

Also, consider sending a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or the Federal Trade Commission.

Get Your Credit Reports and Review Them Carefully

Wait a few weeks, then get copies of your credit reports and check to be sure the account is not on the reports. If you find other accounts on your reports that don’t belong to you, you need to file a dispute with the credit reporting agency and contact those companies immediately.

When to Talk to a Lawyer

If an identity thief has opened new accounts in your name and you need help dealing with the aftermath, consider talking to an identity theft lawyer or a consumer protection lawyer.

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