I was sent a credit card without my authorization. What do I do?

Written by
Geoff Williams
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If you received a credit card in the mail without applying, here are the steps you should take:

  1. Contact the company that sent you the credit card and report the incident.
  2. Report the practice to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

I received a credit card I didn’t apply for. My credit report was obviously dinged to obtain one. Will it be dinged again if I cancel?

For starters, if you received a credit card without your authorization, it shouldn’t have happened. This is because in 1970 the Truth in Lending Act, which protects you against inaccurate and unfair credit billing and credit card practices, amended a rule to keep companies from sending out unsolicited credit cards. That said, for years, some stores and banks were able to exploit a loophole, in which they could send a credit card to members or clients unless they specifically opted out. The Truth in Lending Act has been amended many times since then, but you simply shouldn’t be receiving unsolicited credit cards.

If it does somehow happen to you, and you don’t want the credit card, you should complain loudly to the brand and report the practice to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. If your credit score goes down, and if you cancel, it should be minimal and shouldn’t go down enough to justify hanging onto a credit card you didn’t ask for and don’t want.

Why am I getting credit cards in the mail?

You shouldn’t be receiving any credit cards in the mail that you haven’t applied for; for most banks and brands, anyway, that’s against the law. What you are probably receiving are credit card offers. These still require you to submit an application, and don’t contain a real credit card in the packet (sometimes there may be a cardboard mock card, but this isn’t a real credit card).

If unsolicited credit card offers really bug you, you can call 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688) and ask to opt out of pre-approved credit offers. You can also visit the OptOut website and get taken off of pre-screened offer lists. It’ll last five years before you’ll have to renew again, but if you really, really hate unsolicited credit cards, on the OptOut website is a printable “permanent opt-out form” which has to be mailed, but should solve your problem.

What is an unsolicited card?

An unsolicited credit card is, unfortunately, just what it sounds like – a credit card that is opened up in a customer’s name, without the customer’s permission. In other words, instead of an unsolicited credit card offer, it would be a credit card that shows up in the mail, and you can start using it immediately to build your credit – or watch it go down in flames, if you use it irresponsibly.

So that’s what an unsolicited credit card is, but they basically no longer exist – or shouldn’t.

In 1970 the Federal Trade Commission banned the unsolicited mailing of credit cards. According to news reports from the time, in 1968 alone, 150 million credit cards were issued – and there weren’t even that many American adults in the country, so some people were receiving more than one credit card in their name. In other words, credit card companies were sort of handing out credit cards like candy.

That’s obviously no longer the case, but for years, there was still a loophole that some companies exploited. For instance, if you were a member at a warehouse store, you might be sent an unsolicited credit card whereas the rest of the general public would not. But these days, you really shouldn’t be receiving an unsolicited credit card in the mail. If it does happen, you should report the practice to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau immediately. 

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