Mystery Checks in the Mail

Earlier this month, Julie warned us that Macy’s had flipped her store card and sold her data to Citibank. I recently experienced something similar.

A few months ago, I received some “advance checks” in the mail from Bank of America. You know the ones — the kind of checks your credit card uses to entice you so take a cash advance. The problem was, I don’t have an account with Bank of America. I did once, but I closed it in December of 1998

I shredded the checks and didn’t think much about it.

A few weeks ago, I received a second batch of advance checks in the mail from Bank of America. This made me a little concerned. I took a closer look. They had my name and address correct, but the account number didn’t match any I’d ever had with any financial institution. I thought about calling the toll-free number, but didn’t.

I shredded the checks, but then wished I had actually called to see what was going on.

Today I received a third batch of checks. Because I’m not completely stupid, I stopped in my tracks and dialed the toll-free number. This account had $7,500 of available credit. Apparently the last payment was made on 20 January 2005.

I fired up Quicken and dug through my old accounts. During the first few months of 2005, I had been in full Debt Snowball mode. I was paying off debts left and right. I wondered if this mysterious account was related to one of those old debts.

I waited on hold for twenty minutes. When I finally spoke to a live human being, I had barely begun to explain the situation when he interrupted me. “I’ll bet you used to have an account with MBNA,” he said. “I show here that you bought something from Apple Computer in 2004. When we merged with MBNA, we took over this account.”

Aha! So that was it. “But I thought the account was closed,” I said.

“No sir,” he said.

Well, it is now

In retrospect, I’ve learned several things from this experience:

  • When I’m finished with a loan account, such as the one I’d used to purchase my last desktop computer, I’m going to close the account. Yes, my credit score may be dinged, but I don’t care. Better that than mystery checks.
  • When something strange comes in the mail, I’m not going to just ignore it. If I don’t know what it is, I’m going to do my best to find some answers.
  • I’m actually going to establish a routine for checking my credit reports. I’ve been using one free check every few moths, but I don’t really have a system. My last check was on April 26th. I’ll do my next check on November 1st, and then do one every four months thereafter. (Read more about your free annual credit reports.)

Finally, I’m not going to be afraid to buy top-of-the-line Macintosh products. Though this seems completely unrelated, I’m sure, the computer I bought with the original account is still going strong after four years. Not bad!

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