It started with a phone call to a 90-year-old couple who had a President’s Choice Financial MasterCard, and who paid it in full each month.
The caller said he was with MBNA, a U.S. card issuer purchased in 2011 by TD Bank Group, and offered to help them open a new low-rate credit card account.
“My mom said no because she already had a credit card, but the caller wouldn’t take no for an answer,” said her daughter, Susan Wakutz.
“Then a supervisor got on the line and persuaded her to disclose her PC Financial MasterCard number.”
The result came as a nasty surprise. The couple had two accounts opened in their names at MBNA, each with a $1,000 balance, and had $2,000 in payments taken from their PC Financial MasterCard account.
“My brother filed a dispute, but there is an ongoing problem,” Wakutz said. “PC Financial insists it reversed both of the $1,000 transactions. MBNA insists only one transaction was reversed and continues to go after my mom for the other $1,000.
“PC keeps saying it made a payment, but can’t provide any proof. MBNA threatened collection agency action so many times that we had to change our parents’ phone number, which they had since 1962.”
Wakutz wrote to me after fighting for six months to break the impasse. She was ready to give up.
“I don’t know how to fix this problem,” she said. “I’m just going to have to let my 90-year-old parents have their impeccable credit rating destroyed by MBNA, and that is really upsetting.”
Everything was straightened out quickly once I contacted both banks. PC Financial put $1,000 into the daughter’s account and MBNA worked with her to transfer the money and close the unauthorized account.
So what happened? A major bank does not usually attract business this way.
“This was a very unfortunate and complex situation involving two financial institutions,” said Cheryl Ficker, a TD spokeswoman. “It was not fraud, but unknown entities who took advantage of the couple.
“We empathize with the family and the time it took for resolution. We appreciate your involvement. We’re glad the situation was escalated and resolved.”
In 2013, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada put out a warning about not giving personal financial information to unsolicited callers offering credit cards with low interest rates.
Callers promise to submit an application on your behalf in exchange for a large fee that is charged to your existing credit card number.
“Consumers should never pay a fee to a third party for this service,” the FCAC said. “Most financial institutions offer low interest rate cards and consumers can apply for the cards on their own through the financial institution directly.”
Once she heard about the FCAC warning, Wakutz remembered another fraudulent charge of $1,013 that she and her brother had disputed through PC Financial. It was reversed back in September.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission, a consumer protection agency, warned that companies behind the calls to lower your interest rates can’t do anything you can’t do for yourself.
“You have just as much clout with your credit card issuer as these companies,” the FTC said, “and you are just as likely to get turned down for a rate reduction regardless of their promises or supposed efforts to negotiate on your behalf.
“Indeed, FTC investigators found that people who pay for these services don’t get the touted interest rate reductions, don’t save the promised amounts, don’t pay off their credit card debt three to five times faster and struggle to get refunds.”
Here is advice on protecting yourself from unknown callers, who may identify themselves as “card services” and imply a relationship or affiliation with your existing credit card issuer.
Ask for the caller’s name, company name and department, and then end the call.
Find a contact number for your credit card company. Look for it on a credit card, bill or account statement. Do not use a number provided by the caller.
Call your credit card company and ask to speak to the person who contacted you. Try to confirm any information the caller gave you.
Never give out your credit card number to someone offering to open an account for you with another financial institution. Scammers can use it to put through charges that may be tough for you to reverse.