The Checkout

Ripped Up Over Credit

Rob Cockerham is a longtime blogger from Sacramento. On, the 37-year-old digital printer/Web editor has a lot of fun, pulling pranks (such as putting phony menus in some TGIF restaurants) and conducting "science experiments" (dissecting a Hot Pocket). His specialty, though, is determining how much is inside a particular product. (A package of ramen, for example, has enough noodles to add up to 170 feet when each noodle is stretched out. I know you needed to know that.).

Cockerham's curiosity knows no bounds, as he seems to test anything and everything. So, it's no surprise he decided to see what would happen if he submitted a torn-up credit-card application. As he records the story on his blog, Cockerham took one of the many unsolicited offers he got in the mail, ripped it into pieces, then taped it back together and filled it out. Instead of his own address, he used his parents. And he listed his cell phone as his contact number on his application for a Chase MasterCard.

He figured he'd never get a new card because both Chase and government Web sites tell consumers to tear up any unwanted credit solicitations to avoid identity theft. But Cockerham got a brand new card within weeks. Cockerham said he was surprised--and angry, because his card also came with a balance transfer check that he could use for up to $5,000. "It made me really examine what the credit-card company has to lose by sending out a credit-card to the wrong person. I guess they don't have a lot to lose if there's a case of identity theft. It's only a small loss or only a small chance that fraud is taking place in that way," he said in a telephone interview a few days ago.

Chase spokesman Paul Hartwick, in an interview, said the company acted appropriately: For privacy reasons, he declined to speak specifically about Cockerham's application but said: "When Chase receives an application for credit, we are legally obligated to appropriately handle it, regardless of the condition." He said the application goes "through a series of sophisticated credit and fraud reviews, checking for complete and accurate information. If all the information checks out and passes reviews, we issue a card." In a formal statement, Hartwick added in an e-mail: "Although this particular incident clearly is an Internet prank, Chase takes these matters extremely seriously and always seeks to improve its processes to serve and protect our cardmembers. Chase is actively involved in fraud protection. We use sophisticated systems to monitor and detect fraudulent activity."

Where does that leave Cockerham? He says that until recently, he's never been a big advocate of shredders. "I thought it was a scare tactic" drummed up by shredder manufacturers. But now, he writes on his blog: "You should probably buy a shredder today." As he explained in the phone interview, the unsolicited credit-card offers "are a ticking time bomb. You have to take some extra step to get rid of them, which is really bothersome because you didn't ask for them in the first place."

Of course you can--and should--sign up to stop getting these solicitations in the first place. I've written about this before in an earlier blog posting. You can stop these unwanted offers by "opting out." via the opt-out Web site or by calling the toll-free number: 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688).

By  |  April 12, 2006; 7:00 AM ET Credit Issues
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Somewhere in the small print of the opt-out website it notes that companies I am already affiliated with may continue to distribute my information.
So, dispite opting-out months ago, I still receive at least 3 offers a week (which I admit is a drop).

Posted by: Emily | April 12, 2006 8:55 AM

I frequently get offers in the mail for former tenants of where I live. I'm sure people currently living in my former residences get credit offers addressed to me. I have no control over what happens to them. The ones I get, I shred. I wish credit card companies would quit inundating me with that garbage that is hazardous to my privacy and encourages theft of my identity.

Posted by: Martha | April 12, 2006 9:12 AM

I'm quite surprised nobody has posting something like "Won't you think about the little kids? Those shredders are dangerous. No self-respecting parent would have one in a house with little kids."

Posted by: Rob | April 12, 2006 9:27 AM

Good lord Rob, are your kids locked in the basement and wrapped in bubble wrap in order to keep them safe ? Can you say "over-reacting?" I don't mean to be crass, but com eon! You can put a shredder up and out of the way of children and many of them only shred a few pages at a time and have child safety features.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 12, 2006 9:48 AM

To "no name" at 9:48am.

I was being sarcastic. However, people have posted in this blog (at least I think it was "The Checkout" but it was on how dangerous shredders are to children. Heck, the CPSC put out a paper shredder alert recently -

People blaming the shredder instead of taking personal responsibility.

Posted by: Rob | April 12, 2006 9:55 AM

You would think Chase's "sophisticated credit and fraud reviews" would include someone saying "Hmmm, why would someone tape an application together that was ripped to shreds?"

On the other hand, you can apply for credit cards by telephone and online--as long as the information checks out, you get the card, and you could easily use someone else's information if you knew it. And every day people buy things from catalogs or online with credit cards that they conceivably could have stolen from someone else--and Web sites allow you to send your purchases as gifts, so if you stole a credit card you could use it online and simply have your purchase shipped as a "gift" to an address of your choosing.

If Cockerham had used a random address that did not belong to his family, used a false social security number, etc. and still gotten the card, this might seem a little more distressful. As it is, it's interesting and sort of funny but it doesn't necessarily mean everyone should be running out and getting a shredder.

Another Web site did a credit card prank in which the author repeatedly signed his credit card receipts in bizarre ways without ever being questioned, including signing with a square grid, as Mariah Carey, Beethoven, Zeus and, finally, with the plea "Please Check ID."

It makes you question why credit cards even bother with the signature--oh, wait, Visa just announced no more signatures required for purchases under $25.

Posted by: Justin | April 12, 2006 9:59 AM

What kind of 'a series of sophisticated credit and fraud reviews' did Chase perform that they didn't even detect wrong address and phone number?!!! Anyone having access to the internet can easily verify these and 'sophisticated' Chase failed miserably! This is actually quite scary. Credit card companies must be more accountable for issuing fraudulent credit cards.

Posted by: Elle | April 12, 2006 9:59 AM

"What kind of 'a series of sophisticated credit and fraud reviews' did Chase perform that they didn't even detect wrong address and phone number?!!! "

He used his parent's address. When I check my credit reports, it still has all the places I've lived including my parent's address. So it wasn't a "wrong" address. As for the cell phone, maybe they were able to check and see that it belonged to him.

Sounds like he used information that either was or is linked to him and therefore not of a concern of identity fraud.

To really test it, he should have used a friend's address and phone number. Information not linkable to him but where he could get the card should it arrive.

Posted by: Rob | April 12, 2006 10:16 AM

usually when you are applying for credit, you need to hand over your ssn. did he do it? or, did chase just give him credit without income/ssn info? a lot more questions. if he did put all correct info, including ssn info, then this joker is a poser. if chase gave credit to someone without credit info, then chase is exposed. more reporting is needed.

Posted by: gonzo | April 12, 2006 11:11 AM

So, let's pull the plug on these clowns. Write your Senator/Congressman, tell em you support wholesale credit card industry reform. Reform for these guys AKA some honest regulation to chase out the loan sharks, is about 20 years overdue. High time.

Posted by: Bert | April 12, 2006 11:39 AM

Bert, and how would chasing out the loan sharks make a difference in this story?

Posted by: Rob | April 12, 2006 12:05 PM

This item hits home for me because I was recently the victim of ID theft - thanks to a (now former) co-worker and Chase. The co-worker managed to snag my SSN and set up a fraudulent account at Chase with me as the primary account holder and herself as the authorized user.

You'd THINK, wouldn't you, that Chase or any other CC company would at least do a cursory check of the info on the person who's the primary cardholder? But no - aside from the real SSN, my address, phone, and DOB were completely made up, and no one at Chase thought to question it.

Chase ended up eating all the fraudulent charges, so I guess there's some justice, but it should have never happened in the first place.

Posted by: Madame Librarian | April 12, 2006 12:13 PM

What I find just as annoying is the blank checks that come along with some of my monthly credit card statements. Yet another way for an identity thief to rip unsuspecting consumers off by going through their mailbox or trash can.

Posted by: WA2CHI | April 12, 2006 12:29 PM

To Rob from no name: Apologies!! My sarcasm sensor would have picked up on that were it not for the post being on washpost blog (not much of a sense of humor on these blogs) I agree with you! There is a derth of personal responsibility out there

Posted by: Anonymous | April 12, 2006 12:30 PM

I wouldn't buy a shredder for that. Just take the app, write no thanks, stuff the whole thing back in the postage paid envelope and mail it back. Let the people paying 28% interest on their neverending balances pay the postage.

Posted by: dm | April 12, 2006 12:36 PM

My late ex-husband managed to die leaving me with thousands of dollars in credit card debt. All he did was return the pre-approved forms - which had my name on it - to which he added himself as a secondary and provided HIS ss# only. They extended him credit, unbeknownst to me. And since I knew we didn't have the income, I never applied for anything and therefore I was completely unaware of these debts.

Guess who the bank was? Chase.

We were only separated at the time of his death -- so legally, I was liable. Chase ended up with his entire estate - leaving me and my kids to fend for ourselves.

Chase is little more than a predator lender with a fancy name. I know. I worked for them for 3 years in the mid-80's extending credit to small businesses. When a company wanted to pay off their loans or leases, we were "legally" able to charge up to 3X the lease or credit amounts. I always felt sorry for these little mom and pop printing shops whom we ripped off. I left the company because I couldn't stand what Chase was doing.

Posted by: M in Missouri | April 12, 2006 12:39 PM

I hope you all realize that you can remove your name from "pre-approved" lists. While not an absolute bar to ID theft, it might help.

Also, if you feel that you might have been the victim of ID theft, contact the bureaus and put a ID Theft Alert on your credit report. It forces lenders to jump through a few more hoops before opening new credit.

Posted by: Power to the people | April 12, 2006 8:35 PM

To really test for security against fraud, the blogger should have used a friend's address and phone number since both would have not previously been on his credit report.

Posted by: ProfessorB | April 13, 2006 7:32 AM

You can call your CC issuer and request that they stop mailing you those "convenience" checks.
If you think you've been a victim of ID theft, you'll need to do more than just put an alert on your credit report. My friend put alerts on all her accounts after getting her SS card stolen (she doesn't normally carry it, her wallet was stolen the one day she had to have her SS card for some paperwork) and that didn't stop the thieves from opening more than a dozen accounts in her name.

Posted by: bostonienne | April 13, 2006 10:04 AM

I don't shredd or tear up the apps I burn them. That is the only way I know of that the apps cannot get into the wrong hands. After they have all been burned I put them in yard so the worms can have it. Or you could use your shredder and put the bits in your compost bin.


Posted by: ziggee | April 13, 2006 3:34 PM

Don't just mail those forms back to the company (to make them pay postage). It's all automated and they don't care. If you really want to get them, staple it shut a couple of times, that will jam the automatic letter openers these envelopes go through at their processing centers.

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