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Straight Up
Fact IS Stranger Than Fiction as These Stories are THE REAL DEAL!

HOW Did That Card Get in YOUR Wallet?
The Indestructible Credit Card Application ... It Just Keeps on Ticking

So, have many credit card applications have you used to line the bird cage or cut up for hampster bedding? Are you sure that identity theft is a problem that only afflicts someone else? Are you confident that the security protocols of your bank ensure that your disposal of unwanted credit card applications are sufficient protection from identity fraud and financial abuse? Ever wonder if a real person ever examines your credit card application? Well, check out the following oddessey of the mutilated CHASE credit card application that defied the laws of practical destruction and miraculously morphed into plastic money!

"The Torn Up Credit Card Application"

It's Never Too Early To Learn About Responsible Credit Card Use

In Rochester New York, three-year old Alessandra Scalise listed her occupation as 'pre-schooler" and stated that she was applying for a credit card to buy toys. No, she is not a precious wunderkind or driven by the acquisitive urges of the sandbox set. Rather, Alessandra's application was simply a joke played by her parents on their local bank. But, to the surprise of the Scalises, the joke was on them. The "pre-approved" application from Charter One Bank--which was sent in Alessandra's name to the family residence--was approved. Even without a Social Security number, no listed income, and no other relevant financial information. To add insult to injury, Ali's credit card came with a credit limit of $5,000--more than her parents' credit card!

As reported by the Associated Press and published in The Boston Globe, August 10, 1999. My thanks to Susan Gailey for sharing this story.

What if HE had Credit Cards as a Kid!?!

Actor Gary Coleman, star of the late 1970s television sitcom "Diff'rent Strokes," filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in August 1999. The highest-paid child actor of the 1980s, Coleman earned as much as $64,000 per week during the show's heyday (1978-1986). As recently as 1990, Coleman was reportedly worth at least $7 million. But since then, he has fallen on hard times following a bitter legal dispute with his adoptive parents (Coleman accused them of stealing up to $1 million of his earnings), medical problems (including two failed kidney transplants), and employment difficulties. According to the 31-year old Coleman, 'I can spread the blame all the way around, from me to accountants to my adoptive parents, to agents to lawyers and back to me again.'

Earlier in the year, Coleman was arrested and sentenced in the assault of an autograph-seeking fan. Although granted probation, he was later taken into custody for not paying the $400 fine in the case. Maybe his credit cards were maxed-out! Anyway, his bankruptcy filing in Los Angeles lists debts of $72,000. Too bad he didn't learn the value of money while growing up in Hollywood.

As reported by The Washington Post, August 21, 1999.

What A Tip!

When Sally served the middle-aged gent his gin and tonic in a local Oregon bar in the summer of 1995, little did she know that the pleasant conversation would lead to fifteen minutes of fame. In fact, when Sally first looked at the credit card receipt, she thought that her eyes were playing tricks on her--a $1000 tip! Surely, it must have been a mistake. The last two zeros must have been for cents. After all, a $10 tip was a hefty gratuity for a $3.95 drink. But, to Sally's surprise, the credit card receipt was no joke.

Indeed, the generous patron was intent on demonstrating his largess and American Express honored the client's charge. Not only was Sally and her work ethic handsomely compensated but word of the "big tip" in the little bar spread throughout the American media. Sally's story was reported across the country and she was interviewed by several television stations. Although the patron later refused to pay AMEX for his 'Thousand Dollar Cocktail,' Sally steadfastly refused to return the gratuity. Nevertheless, her "big tip" has become a part of American folklore, courtesy of American Express!

Fill 'er Up on the PLASTIC

In the popular 1997 American Express advertisement series, comedian Jerry Seinfeld survives various "crisis" situations by using his AMEX charge card to pay for urgent items such as NBA basketball tickets. The Knicks, of course! How the average person would pay for these impulsive purchases is irrelevant. The point is that American Express offers the "freedom to choose" and thereby can satisfy your most desperate cravings. You know the mantra, "don't worry, be happy"! Anyway, American Express emphasizes that there are times when Visa or MasterCard can not solve your cash problems. Of course, we believe their Madison Avenue advertising hacks, we mean execs (after all, they cost enough!), and felt confident that we could entertain you with numerous AMEX anecdotes. To our shock, however, the Newtonian Finances research team nearly abandoned hope following countless hours of fruitless searches on Lexis-Nexis. But, tormented by our faith in "Don't Leave Home Without It," we finally found one at a YUPPIE cocktail party.

It came following a query about unusual credit card stories. It seems that Tom, an airline steward, was working an international flight that unloaded some special cargo in a Middle Eastern country. Upon the return leg of the journey, the Captain realized that the plane was low on fuel and landed in Bahrain for servicing. After refueling, he offered the standard payment--a company check--and prepared the flight crew for take-off.

To his surprise, the check was rejected by airport authorities and the runway was blockaded by transport vehicles. In order to allow the plane to leave, the fuel would have to be paid in cash. Although the flight crew passed around the hat, not even high salary jet pilots could pony up that kind of cash. Fearful that they would be held hostage in a Muslim country where they could not drink alcohol or entertain the local women (if you know some airline pilot then you know what we mean!), the crew deliberated over their options. Finally, Captain Bob whipped out his American Express card and offered to charge the entire amount. To his and the rest of the crew's relief, the AMEX Gold card was up to the task--a $50,000 fill-up! So, if your 747 is ever low on gas, "don't worry, be happy" as long as you "don't leave home without it"!

VISA: "It's Everywhere..." And A Foreign Policy Tool

In the fall of 1993, several Clinton Administration officials met to discuss the Haitian "problem." During the Presidential campaign, Clinton had openly criticized the discriminatory immigration policy of his predecessor and declared that the U.S. should discontinue its practice of accepting "political" refugees from economically depressed Cuba while summarily deporting Haitian refugees fleeing from the indiscriminate violence of the army and the notorious Ton Ton Macoutes. Haitians hailed the Clinton election as a victory for social justice and thousands began preparing for the maritime journey to Miami. Concerned with the political consequences of another wave of Haitian boat people, however, President Clinton hastily explored his diplomatic options. At the meeting, a consensus was quickly reached--the dictatorial military junta had to be ousted. But how?

Reluctant to intervene militarily at the time, the Clinton Administration imposed economic and political sanctions. Deny the country petroleum it was thought and popular opposition would quickly topple the regime. Wrong! A booming enterprise of gasoline "running" emerged across the border in the Dominican Republic. Discontinue all military shipments and the army eventually would be unable to quell mass uprisings. Wrong! The end of the civil war in Nicaragua left a glut of Contra supplies that had quickly filtered into the black market at discount prices.

With indirect political pressure proving ineffective, the Clinton Administration altered its strategy by increasing direct pressure on the ruling elite. The decision was made to suspend the visas of the junta's friends and families so that they could not enjoy their lavish lifestyle in Miami. A simple call to the undersecretary of Latin American Affairs should take care of the matter, right? Wrong! In this case, the issuer was more likely Citibank than the State Department and the objective was to curtail the junta's luxurious standard of living rather than simply restrict their freedom to enter the United States. Although these actions failed to weaken the resolve of the Haitian junta, they illustrate the increasing significance of consumer credit in contemporary American life. Clearly, credit card "membership" had come of age as a national and even international "privilege" in the 1980s. Imagine, taking away the Visa and American Express cards (maybe Discover, too!) from a dictator-for-life as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy. My how quickly times have changed!

Graveyard Solicitations: They Never Give Up!

Graveyard voting is a notorious practice of past urban political machines. Electoral shenanigans that effectively "mobilized" deceased constituents are part of American political folklore. Today, the aggressive marketing efforts of the credit card industry also are not hindered by such worldly inconveniences as death. Although elderly widows may find it nearly impossible to obtain a credit card after the death of their husbands, due to the lack of an independent credit history, the recently departed continue to be hounded with offers for new credit cards. A recent letter to Ann Landers highlights the persistence of credit card marketers and the aggravation created by this practice for the living.

Dear Ann:

I live in the San Diego area. Several months ago, I was appointed executrix of my late brother's estate. It has not required much extra work, except for one thing. My brother's credit rating was excellent. For several weeks, I have been receiving mail in HIS name at MY address, mostly from solicitors of credit card companies. I used to write on the [solicitation] envelope, 'Deceased-Return to Sender,' but no one paid any attention to it. Now, I cut up the plastic cards and return the original correspondence. Under the space for 'New Address," I put the address of the cemetery. In the upper left corner of my envelop, I also put the address of the cemetery.

Am I violating any laws? when I tried to do it honestly by writing 'Deceased-Return to Sender,' it did no good, and my requests were ignored. I don't know what else I can do. Please RSVP.

Fay in La Mesa

Ann's reply is instructive. Hit 'em where it hurts--their wallet!

"According to the U.S. Post Office, you are not violating any laws, but neither are you doing the cemetery any favors by transferring your headache to them. On top of that, it does not solve the problem.

If you want the credit card applications to stop, return the envelopes marketed 'Deceased-Return to Sender.' This forces the organization to pay return postage costs. It takes time, however, for your brother's name to work its way out of their computer systems, and you will have to do this repeatedly before it is effective, so be patient. It might be worthwhile to invest in a rubber stamp. Of course, an easier alternative is simply to toss the unwanted mail in the wastebasket" (September 8, 1999 at

Tragic but TRUE

On September 7, 1999, Keith Gardner pleaded guilty to stabbing to death his 64 year-old parents and 90 year-old grandfather inside their Lorton, Virginia home. The bodies were dragged into the family's underground fallout shelter and later covered in limestone powder. Gardner then caulked the doors of the shelter and sealed off the entrance. Before leaving his parents' home, he collected $1,350 in rent from two nearby tenants and told his sister that their parents had gone on a trip to Arkansas. The bodies were finally found by a neighbor on May 11, nearly two weeks after their death.

The mystery surrounding this triple murder in rural, northern Virginia was widely publicized and led to a national manhunt for the killer. Autopsies revealed that the three victims had been stabbed repeatedly and that their throats had been slashed. There was no evidence that an argument or conflict had contributed to the killings. After his apprehension, Gardner reputedly explained that he 'was a heavy drug user, and drugs made him do things that humans just don't do.'

So, how did the FBI find him in the Florida panhandle? Well, running low on cash, he used his parents' credit cards. A quick look at the charges provided a virtual roadmap of Gardner's activities which led them to an inexpensive motel in Pensacola. Local sheriff's deputies and FBI agents swiftly descended upon his motel room and captured the fugitive without a struggle. Although plastic is as good as cash, computerized accounts can give police more information than a starving 'stool pigeon.'

Indeed, if "money talks" then plastic can tell the entire story. And, it often does!



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