A company can’t send you a credit card you didn’t apply for. (It’s considered irresponsible to give people access to credit they may not be in a position to handle. And don’t want!) Learn your rights and what steps to take if you receive a credit card you never asked for.
If you receive a credit card you didn’t apply for
Under the law in BC, a credit card issuer can’t send a credit card to someone who didn’t apply for it.
A credit card issuer can send out a card to replace an existing card. Or, if there was a merger between credit card companies, the new company can send replacement cards to the current customers.
But those are the only times it’s permitted.
If you received a new credit card that isn’t an upgrade or replacement for an old card, that’s illegal. There are steps you can take. See “Deal with the problem”, below.
If you get a card you didn’t apply for, don’t simply ignore the error. Contact the company that issued it and ask what’s going on. Take swift action if it turns out you’re a victim of identity theft.
If you’re misled into signing up for a credit card
“I was grocery shopping when a store employee collared me near the till. He told me it was customer appreciation day, and I had been randomly selected to win 30,000 points. He scanned my ID. A couple weeks later I got a store credit card in the mail. I never got the 30,000 points.”
– Jasmine, Surrey
Under Canadian law, a credit card issuer can’t be sneaky about signing up new customers. The customer must be fully aware of what the deal is. Once a customer agrees to apply for a card, the issuer must disclose important details about the card. (Including the interest rate and any other charges or fees that come with the card.) See our guidance on getting a credit card.
A common marketing scheme works like this: A shopper in a grocery store or department store is approached by an employee who asks if they’d like to sign up to receive free “points”. The shopper may not realize the personal information they provide will be be used on a credit card application.
The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada investigates complaints against companies that solicit credit card applications. See the “Get help” section below.
People selling credit cards in stores are often expected to sign up a daily quota of new customers. As a result, they may use aggressive or misleading sales tactics. If you’re approached, just politely decline. Don’t feel pressured into agreeing to a new card unless you really want to accept the terms of the new card. Stores that offer their own credit cards generally carry higher interest rates.
You may be a victim of identity theft
There’s another reason you might receive a credit card you didn’t apply for: you may be a victim of identity theft. In other words, a criminal has gotten hold of your personal information and has applied for a card, pretending to be you.
How did they get the information?
There are many ways. They might have:
- found an old credit card bill in the garbage or recycling
- found a lost wallet or phone
- tricked you into giving them your personal information through an online scam
If you think someone has applied for a credit card under your name without your permission, call the credit card issuer immediately. Ask for details about when and how the account was opened. If it’s a fraudulent account, ask the issuer to freeze and cancel it. If you suspect that you may be a victim of identity theft, you may also wish to file a report with your local police department for further investigation.
You should also order a copy of your credit report. Check the report for any other accounts or transactions you don’t recognize. Call the companies involved and tell them what happened. Ask the credit reporting agency to put a fraud alert on your credit report. Consider adding a note to your credit report explaining the situation (see our guidance on fixing a mistake on your credit report).
For more steps to take, see our guidance on what to do if you’re the victim of a scam.
If your bank offers the service, consider signing up to receive credit card statements by email. This will prevent someone digging through your garbage or recycling and finding a paper copy of your account information. If you do not have access to email, you should shred the statements before disposing of them.
Your credit score may be affected
Most credit card issuers do a credit search on each new customer they’re thinking of signing up. (That way they can review the potential customer’s credit history to determine if they’re likely to pay their bills on time.)
If you’re unknowingly signed up for a credit card, it’s likely the issuer did a credit check on you. This shows up as a “hard inquiry” on your credit report, and will lower your credit score. See our guidance on improving your credit score.
Step 1. Call the credit card issuer
If you get a credit card in the mail that you didn’t apply for, call the company immediately. Tell them you don’t want the card, and to cancel the account.
Ask them not to report the account to the credit reporting agencies. If they’ve already done so, ask them to correct the error with the agencies. Ask for written confirmation that they have.
Step 2. Send a confirmation letter
Once you’ve called the company, follow up by sending a confirmation letter. In the letter, say that:
- you’ve been issued a credit card that you didn’t apply for
- you want the account to be closed
- you don’t want the credit card account to be recorded in your credit report
You should also include a photocopy of the card, with the account number clearly visible. Make a copy of the letter, and keep it in your files. Consider sending the letter by registered mail, so you get confirmation of delivery.
Step 3. Shred or cut up the card
Once you have a photocopy of the card and have recorded the account number, cut it up or shred it. Make sure the magnetic strip is severed. If it’s a chip card, make sure to destroy the chip. Dispose of the pieces in separate places, so no one can reassemble it to get the account number.
Step 4. File a complaint
Contact the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. Let them know you’ve received a card you didn’t apply for, or have been misled into applying for a credit card. You can phone them directly, or submit your complaint online.
Step 5. Order a copy of your credit report
Wait a week or two, then order a copy of your credit report. Check to make sure the credit card account isn’t recorded in your report. If it is, contact the credit reporting agencies to confirm they’ve been told of the error.
Why has my local grocery store sent me a credit card I didn’t ask for?
A number of major grocery stores hire sales representatives to sell credit cards to their customers. Often, these agents use misleading tactics to get customers to sign up.
For example, they may tell you you’ve won free “points” that you can redeem at the store. The representative asks for a copy of your ID to confirm that you’re actually the winner. In reality, they use your personal information to sign you up for a merchant credit card.
In Canada, this behaviour is illegal. See above, under "Understand your legal rights”.
What happens if I use a credit card that I’ve received but didn’t sign up for?
Some cards may require that you call the issuer to activate the card. Others may give you the option of going online to activate.
Under the law in BC, using a credit card for the first time may be enough to activate the account—even if you haven’t signed an application form. And once the card has been activated, you are locked in to the cardholder agreement with the issuer.
The moral: Don’t activate or use a credit card that you didn’t apply for!
The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada can help if you think a major Canadian financial institution has violated your rights.
The Better Business Bureau can help if someone used misleading marketing or sales tactics to get you to sign up for a credit card.