THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
CONSUMER ALERT

‘Checks’ not usually a good deal

By Mitch Lipka
Globe Correspondent / May 8, 2011

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Q. Over the years, I have written, to no avail, to banks, credit cards, and businesses who send me blank checks soliciting my use of them. I’ve never gotten a response. These offer a tremendous opportunity to thieves. I would appreciate your comments.

A. It’s always a potential problem when someone sends you something you didn’t ask for. In this case, there are a lot of pitfalls for consumers and, indeed, some risk.

“These ‘checks’ are generally bad news for consumers, whether through very high interest rates or theft of account information,’’ said Barbara Anthony, who heads the state’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation.

There are different variations of these checks, Anthony said, so it’s important for consumers to be able to distinguish between them and understand how they work.

“The checks come unsolicited, and are often blank. All you have to do is fill in the dollar amount, sign it, and cash it,’’ she said. “However, many of the checks are actually loans or lines of credit, and come with very high interest rates that are not obvious to the consumer.’’

Blank checks sent by credit card companies typically work like a cash advance. Once they are cashed, they begin accruing interest immediately.

As tempting as it might seem to write a “check’’ to finance home renovations or pay off another credit card, it is vital to know what you’re dealing with before signing your name.

“Consumers should take a close look at these unsolicited checks and should think twice about using them,’’ Anthony cautioned. “At the very least, make sure you understand the terms of the ‘check’ and what using it entails in terms of repayment, if the check is a loan or credit line.’’

If you want to limit sales and marketing material stuffed in your mailbox, go to the Direct Marketing Association website (www.dmachoice.org) and follow the steps to get removed from various mailing lists.

And, even though some companies might be less than responsive, you should be able to get those with which you do business to stop sending solicitations such as these checks, or risk losing you as a customer.

You’ll still get bills, though.

Mitch Lipka is a nationally known consumer columnist and runs TheConsumerChronicle.com. He lives in Worcester. You can find him on Facebook at http://on.fb.me/MitchLipka. He can be reached at ConsumerNews@Aol.com