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Fraudulent Credit Card Offers

"You have been approved to receive a premier unsecured credit card, regardless of your past credit history, with a credit limit of $3,000 guaranteed. You cannot be turned down! Call our toll-free number to take advantage today!"

If you get an offer like this in the mail or by phone, beware. Offers like this are misleading, or are just plain scams. They'll get money from you, but won't send you the credit card you think you're being offered. Examples:

• A Columbia man received a postcard saying he was qualified for a credit card with a credit limit of $4,000. He called the company and was told that he would receive the card if he paid $199 by debit from his bank account. Instead of a Visa or MasterCard, what he received was a card that was only good for purchases in a catalog owned by the company.

• Several people responded to a similar offer for a credit card. They gave their bank account number and amounts ranging from $150 to $189 were debited from their accounts. However, they never received anything at all. When they tried to get their money back, no one would answer the company's phone.

These offers make it sound as if you are guaranteed to receive a "major credit card." Their mailings may display the logos of Visa or MasterCard. But instead of receiving a regular credit card that you could use at any business, you receive a merchandise catalog and a card that is only good for purchases in that catalog.

The company may say that buying merchandise from its catalog will help you build up a good credit record, and then it will send you an application for a major credit card. So, in addition to the fee you already paid, it wants to get more money from you, and you still have no guarantee of actually ever receiving a major credit card.

In other cases, some people just receive a list of banks that issue credit cards, along with instructions on how to apply. Sometimes people never receive anything at all. When they try to reach the company to complain, the company has disappeared or won't answer the phone. Here's the trap: The companies running these scams usually ask you to pay through a debit from your checking account. They ask you to read off the numbers from the bottom of one of your checks, which will allow them to draft money from your account. This is bad news for you because once they've got your money, it can be almost impossible to get it back if it turns out to be a scam. Also, in some cases consumers found that the company took money from their accounts not just for the fee they agreed to, but also for another fee that the consumer didn't authorize.

Therefore, it's best to just ignore these offers. Our advice is:

1. Don't pay fees up front in return for a "guaranteed" credit card. Legitimate credit card issuers don't ask for money in advance. In fact, it's against the law for someone to guarantee they can get you a credit card and ask you to pay for their service in advance.

2. Think very carefully before you give your bank account information to anyone, especially if you have never dealt with the person or company before.

So, What Can You Do If You Have Poor Credit?
1. Apply for a credit card from your bank, credit union or a local department store, which may be more willing to give you credit than the big lenders. Explain that you have had credit problems, but that you are serious about improving your credit history.

2. Get a "secured" bank credit card. Even people with poor credit may be able to get a secured Visa or MasterCard. Secured cards are backed by money you deposit and keep in a bank account. Your credit limit is usually equal to the amount of your deposit. You can use a secured credit card in the same places that you would use a "regular" credit card, and if you make all your payments on the card you can build a good credit history and eventually apply for an unsecured card.

Secured cards usually have high fees and a higher rate of interest than other cards. But don't pay advance fees in return for a promise to get the card–there are scams involving secured credit card offers too. Find a list of secured cards that have no application fee at www.bankrate.com. Always read and understand the terms before you sign up for any type of credit card.

3. If what you are really seeking is the convenience of a credit card, a debit card might work as well or better for you. Even if you have a poor credit history, you should be able to establish a bank account and then get a debit card for the account. You can use the card in many places where you would use a credit card, except that the payment comes directly out of your account.

Small Business Can Get Scammed, Too
The Consumer Protection Division has heard from small business owners who lost money to phony credit card offers. The oweners received calls from a company that offered a credit card with a large credit line for businesses, in return for an advance fee. The business owners paid the fee, but didn't receive anything.

November 2001

Maryland Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division
Consumer hotline: (410) 528-8662 or 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free

 
 

Attorney General of Maryland 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free / TDD: (410) 576-6372
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