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Retailers typically offer sales and promotions during the holiday shopping season. And sales clerks will often try to sell you on the their store cards as a way to finance those deals. But what if they sign you up for a store card without your knowledge?
Pitfalls of store cards
It seems it has become standard operating procedure for salespeople to pitch their store cards when you go to checkout. They will try to tempt you with offers of big discounts and rewards when you use the card. They will promise a significant discount for a purchase you’re about to make anyway.
Those might be the advantages, but these cards have their pitfalls, too.
One big drawback to store cards is that they offer limited shopping access. Typically, they can only be used at the named store or its affiliates. And their interest rates tend to be higher than those on other types of credit cards.
They could offer you a deferred interest promotion, which means you won’t have to pay any interest on your balance while this promotion runs. However, if you haven’t paid off your entire balance by the end of the promotion period, you will be in for a shock.
At that time, you will be assessed interest on the remaining balance retrospectively, going back to the time of the purchase. Essentially, interest will be deferred, but it could be charged back if you do carry a balance after the promotional period ends.
Truth in Lending Act protections
A retail store, or any card issuer, cannot issue you a card without your express permission, per the Truth in Lending Act. Issuers can only approve you for a card if you made an oral or written request or put in an application for the card. They can also issue you a card without your express permission when it comes time to renew your current card, or if you need a substitute for an existing card.
There have been instances of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau receiving complaints from consumers saying that they received store cards in the mail even though they declined offers to open these accounts at the store or over the telephone.
This could happen if you shared personal information, including your Social Security number, with store personnel. They could have gotten this input from you on some pretext and then used it to approve you for the card without your knowledge. This sort of misuse of information is considered fraud.
Containing the damage
If you didn’t ask for a card and don’t want to hold on to it, you should call up the issuer and ask to have it canceled. And you should follow up with the credit reporting agencies to make sure the account is off your record.
Also, check out your credit report. The three credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — are offering consumers free credit reports once a week through December 2023. And you’re entitled by law to at least one free credit report from each of the three major bureaus per year.
If there remains a record of the unauthorized account on your credit report after you asked for it to be canceled, you should file a dispute about this matter with the credit bureaus saying that you did not authorize the account. And also tell the card issuer to stop reporting the account to the credit bureaus.
The bottom line
A store cannot issue you a card without your express permission. However, store personnel have been known to be sneaky and could use input you provide without specifically informing you that you are applying for a store card. If this happens to you, call the card issuer and tell it to cancel the card. And then check your credit report after a suitable interval to make sure the account is off the report. If there is any issue, you could follow up by filing a dispute with the credit reporting agencies. You could even file a complaint with the CFPB.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your credit card-related questions.