Think before you sign the dotted line

Tyrel Linkhorn

Students can take action to stop those unwanted credit card applications

Students may receive countless credit card applications in their mailboxes, but they can dispose of them better than simply tossing them into the trash.

Scott Gross, sophomore public relations major, said he has already received four credit card applications this year.

Meghan Lantz, junior fashion merchandising major, said she hasn’t gotten one yet this year, but she received “probably at least two a month last year.”

Both Gross and Lantz receive their mail at the New Front area desk in Dunbar Hall.

Cheryl Hayes, the New Front area clerical coordinator responsible for seeing the mail is delivered, said she estimated the amount of applications to be two to three card offers per student, per month.

And no one at the university seems to know exactly how the card companies compile their list of students.

Amy Quillin, associate director of Residence Services, said that neither the Office of the University Registrar nor the Department of Residence Services makes any such list available to any off-campus groups, including credit card companies.

Hayes also said she has “no knowledge of any database that would provide that information” to the card companies.

And there is nothing Residence Services, which is responsible for distributing the mail to on campus students, can do about it.

“All we do is what the law tells us to do and stuff the mailbox,” Quillin said.

There are, however, courses of action students can take to reduce the inflow of unwanted prescreened applications.

Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director with State Public Interest Research Groups, said it can be as simple as a phone call to stop the unsolicited applications based on credit reports from the major credit bureaus.

“You can call 1-888-5-OPT-OUT and you can cancel pre-approved card applications for five years or permanently, depending on whether you do it on the phone or by mail,” he said.

The hotline, which is operated by the same bureaus that give out the credit information to the companies, gives callers three options: opting out for five years, opting back in or opting out permanently.

Mierzwinski said opting out for five years can be done over the phone, while permanently removing a name requires giving information over the phone as well as mailing information to them.

Opting out does require providing personal information including one’s social security number, but Mierzwinski said the opt out number can be found on the Federal Trade Commission’s Web site, and it states the information is protected.

Students have mixed opinions about the hotline.

Gross said he believes if students are aware of the number, many would call to stop the applications.

Sophomore advertising major Gabby Arencibia said she doesn’t think many students would take the time to call.

“You see it, you laugh at it and you throw it away,” she said. “It’s not a big deal.”

Hayes said she could see some students calling, but didn’t think the response would be overwhelming.

“I’m sure some take advantage of the (credit card) offers,” she said.

For those who would be interested in opting out, but prefer not to give personal information over the telephone, Mierzwinski said the credit bureaus can also be individually contacted by mail.

The applications don’t just affect the students getting them. The sheer number of applications can take its toll on those delivering them.

“It wastes some pretty valuable time of student employees,” Hayes said. “But it’s part of the job.”

For students who choose to still receive the occasional application, Leslie Catstick, media relations associate at the National Crime Prevention Council advises “not (to) just rip something in half.”

Catstick said shredding is the best option, but students should at least tear unwanted applications into several pieces before discarding to help prevent identity theft.

“A lot of college students don’t think they can be victims of identity theft,” she said. “They play right into the thief’s plan.”

Twenty-nine percent of adults age 18 to 28 reported being a victim of identity theft in 2005, Catstick said.

One tactic thieves use is what Catstick described as “Dumpster diving.” This is when people sort through discarded mail to find pre-approved applications. They can then fill them out with a different mailing address and send them back in, she said.

Gross, Lantz and Arencibia each said they destroy applications before they discard them for that very reason.

Hayes said that someone stealing another individual’s information is also a concern of hers.

“I’ve never heard of it happening (here),” she said, “but it’s always possible.”

Contact student finance reporter Tyrel Linkhorn at [email protected].