Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The check is in the mail, whether you like it or not

You know those "checks" your credit card company probably likes to send you? I get them attached to my monthly bill, and under separate cover too. They look like ordinary checking-account checks, except of course you write them against your line of credit, probably incurring some kind of fee and agreeing to a very high finance charge in the process. I don't really know how it works, because I've never used one myself. That's what my actual checking account is for. I just have a hunch that there might be a downside. Anyway, I know a guy -- a friend of the husband's -- who got one of those credit-card "checks" in the mail and tossed it in the trash can at work. A member of the after-hours cleaning staff dug it out and used it to buy a car.

I thought of that story when I got my most recent bill from Citibank and found one such check attached. There was also an insert, which said:
A check that makes it easy to access your credit line -- who wouldn't sign off on that?
Well, I wouldn't, for starters. My husband's sadder-but-wiser friend probably wouldn't, either.

"You've probably noticed the balance transfer check included in your statement," the insert continues. Why, yes, I have, because it makes for one more thing I have to be extra-careful to shred. Shredding papers is a regular household chore at our place, like doing laundry or taking out the recycling. We had to buy a more powerful shredder after I moved in, because the old one broke. It's such a terrific use of our time! "Use it for pretty much anything you want," Citibank adds. Why, thanks! That's so generous of you! How convenient that will be for anyone who might happen to find it in my trash!

I wouldn't mind so much if I only got "balance-transfer checks" with my statement. But I get them between statements, too, in unmarked envelopes that add to our shredding burden. It makes me question Citibank's commitment to protecting my vulnerable account information. And the thing that really pisses me off is when Citibank turns around and questions my commitment to the environment -- my monthly bills now come in an envelope that says, "Help the environment and get paperless statements." My credit-card bill is the only statement I still get in the mail; I haven't switched to paperless because I want to remember to pay it on time. So I refuse to feel guilty about that. And what they really mean is "Help us make money." But their little reminder makes me want to write back and say, "Help the environment by not sending me checks I don't want, not to mention paper inserts explaining how they can be used." Now, if I had any reason to believe they'd stop sending balance-transfer checks if I switched to online-only statements, I'd do it in a heartbeat. But something tells me that's not how it works.

Speaking of banks wasting paper: I did "turn off" paper statements for my regular bank accounts a long time ago. But occasionally I get a letter from Washington Mutual informing me that an email they sent me bounced back, and threatening to cut off access to my account if I don't update my profile with accurate contact information. They have the right email address -- I've checked more than once -- so I'm more than a little annoyed that they keep blaming me for the fact that their emails are evidently so suspicious that Yahoo won't even let them through to my spam folder. At first I thought maybe I really was missing some important communique, but sometimes I do get WaMu emails. The "important message" they want to deliver? My online account statement is "ready." Wow, it would be a shame if I missed that. I mean, I check in at least once a week, but there's nothing like looking at it on an arbitrary monthly basis to really keep me informed. Oh, and since I have two linked accounts (checking and savings), I get two letters every time this happens. Two more letters to shred. What identity fraud? What global warming?

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