Macy's shoppers who had store credit card accounts are reporting an unwelcome surprise in their mailboxes--their cards have been converted into Citibank Mastercards, with different credit limits and interest rates, all without the consent of the cardholders.
ConsumerAffairs.com reader Robert H. from New Hampshire wrote in to report that he "[r]eceived a legitimate Mastercard in the mail ... with just an activation phone call. This card was not ordered by me ... I never heard of a bank mailing credit cards in the mail for immediate use without ordering or comfirming with the bank or credit company."
Citigroup recently acquired the credit services division of the Macy's department store chain, and proceeded to "flip" the inactive store credit accounts of 3.5 million customers into true credit cards.
According to Citigroup and Macy's officials, a notice was sent to the accountholders in August informing them of the change and giving them until August 10 to call a toll-free number or write in to "opt out" and cancel the card. If the customer did not opt out, their Macy's store card account was canceled and replaced with the new card.
The new accounts have to be canceled through Citibank, not Macy's, irking cardholders who never wanted to receive the cards in the first place.
"At first I worried that someone had used my personal info to request the card, but then I noticed the message that reads 'If you do not want the CitMasterCard, call 800-432-0282 and we will close your account,' " wrote Margaret from Watertown, Massachusetts.
"How dare they send me an unrequested credit card in the mail, and then tell me I have to call if I want to cancel! With all the identity and credit card theft today, how can a bank do this? This is wrong and dangerous!"
Banks and other lenders typically perform "soft" inquiries into a person's credit in order to "prescreen" them for a potential credit offer, which is where the bulk of credit card solicitations in your mailbox come from.
According to Emily Davidson of Credit.com, in order to issue these cards, Citibank may have made a "hard" inquiry into accountholders' reports, which could lower their overall credit score.
"This case is unique in that the credit card issuer ran a hard inquiry and issued a real card without the consumer's direct approval," Davidson said. "I haven't seen physical evidence of the hard inquiry yet, but the reports coming in have mentioned this as part of the process. Any hard inquiry can cause some drop in credit scores."
Credit scores are measured in part by a borrower's overall credit history. The more credit a borrower has for a longer period of time, the higher their score is.
Canceling an old account and replacing it with a new one can also lower their credit score by reducing their length of credit history. This is a further turn of the screw for the unsuspecting new cardholders, as they will have to call in to cancel new accounts opened in their name, which may lower their credit score even further.
In addition, although the new cards require calling in to Citibank and answering a security question to activate, even inactive credit cards represent a vulnerability to identity theft and fraud, particularly if an unsuspecting recipient throws the card away. Unsolicited new cards arriving in the mail are themselves a sign of identity theft, as they may indicate a thief has stolen a cardholder's personal information and is using it to open new accounts.
What You Can Do
• Let the companies know you're mad. Citibank's toll-free customer service line is 1-866-510-2761. Call the bank and let them know you're angry that your information was used to make a new credit inquiry without your consent. Although Macy's is no longer responsible for the accounts, if you want to call them and offer a piece of your mind, the company's customer service number is 1-800-BUY-MACY (1-800-289-6229).
• Set up a credit freeze. The best way to block new accounts being opened in your name and without your consent is to freeze your credit. The three major credit bureaus are now offering credit freezes in all 50 states. 39 states and the District of Columbia already have laws enabling consumers to freeze their credit and unlock it, sometimes for as little as $5.
• Opt out. Put yourself on the Opt-Out list to reduce the frequency of your information being shared between companies and affiliates. Whenever you open an account, be sure to read the store agreement for language permitting your information to be shared between the company and its partners. To opt out of receiving unsolicited credit card offers, visit the official Opt-Out Web site or call 1-888-567-8688.