Tearing up unwanted credit card applications isn't as safe as getting rid of them in a paper shredder.
While many might tear up unwanted credit card applications, thieves may be able to ultimately receive cards on applications that are torn up, taped together and sent in.
Five applications were torn up, some into as many as two dozen pieces, and then taped them back together. Target 5's Lisa Parker reported that she wrote around the tape, filling out the application the way an identity thief might if he had been digging in the garbage. The result was a messy, crooked patchwork.
"There's no expertise required in going through somebody's garbage, so we're dealing with a whole different strata of criminal," said Postal Inspector Dave Colen.
Cases from around the world note thieves are not above going through the garbage, Parker reported.
The results of sending in five taped-up applications were three new credit cards, from MBNA, Bank of America and Chase, with credit lines worth more than $21,000. They were new accounts opened based on Parker's Social Security number and basic financial information. On the Bank of America application, Parker said she changed her address to one where she has never lived, and the card was sent there.
"I'm shocked," Colen said. "I'm surprised, and I'm disappointed in the banking industry. The easier they make it for people -- for the wrong people -- to get credit cards, the more difficult our job becomes."
Privacy advocate Bob Bulmash was a bit more blunt.
"What were they thinking?" he said. "It's like opening the door to a bank for a guy with a mask on -- it's evident there is something wrong here."
Bulmash is among the critics who said unsolicited applications, along with ubiquitous convenience checks, which are cash advances against lines of credit, just invite fraud.
In a statement, Chase Card Services said it has "rigorous policies" for handling applications and a "special handling process" for the rare torn applications. In this case, however, "It is clear to us our procedures were not entirely followed for this particular application, and we are investigating."
For the two cards it issued, Bank of America, which merged with MBNA, said the applications "both went through the proper verification processes," and that "the signature, Social Security number and birthdate matched" a current customer with excellent credit. The company could not explain why it sent a card to an address where Parker never lived, she reported.
Bank of America added an explanation, saying it sends cards to unrelated addresses as a convenience for which customers have asked. The banks that denied Parker's mangled applications were Capital One and a different Chase Card.
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said he has been the victim of identity theft, Parker reported.
"I got a call," Durbin said. "They said, 'We finally caught up with you, Dick Durbin. Didn't you think we'd ever find you?'"
Durbin said he found serious concerns with Parker's results. Durbin said he would send Parker's story to the Federal Trade Commission, which oversees consumer credit issues.
"The credit card companies have to assume some responsibility here -- for at least looking at this application," Durbin said. "If, on the face of it, there's something suspicious, they ought to at least pick up the phone and verify that this is a valid application."