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BofA defends 'no SSN' credit card pilot program

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In a piece in The Wall Street Journal on Feb. 22, 2007, Bank of America Chairman and CEO Kenneth D. Lewis defended his bank's pilot plan to market credit cards in Los Angeles to individuals without Social Security numbers.

Compare Low Interest Credit CardsBank of America's CEO explained that rather than being about illegal immigrants, the program is aimed at helping BofA customers build a credit history.  He noted that Bank of America views itself as having an obligation to serve everyone in the U.S. who is legally eligible for services, adding that to do less would be both discriminatory and unfair.

Meanwhile, he explained that those critics who challenge the program on the grounds that it endangers national security might be surprised that Bank of America's program actually arises from the USA PATRIOT Act. 

The PATRIOT Act allows financial institutions to take some official identification sources issued by foreign governments.  Included among these valid documents is the matricula consular, an ID issued by the Mexican consulate offices to its nationals residing outside of Mexico.

In fact, former Treasury Secretary John Snow wrote to Congressional leaders in 2004 that by inviting U.S. consumers of all nationalities into the "financial mainstream," Americans would be better protected, since doing otherwise could force many in the U.S. to seek out underground financial services -- thus weakening "the government's ability to enforce money laundering and terrorist financing laws." 

Mr. Lewis stated that Bank of America does not purposefully target illegal immigrants from any country when marketing its financial products and services, and that the program abides by all Bank of America efforts to work with law enforcement agencies to avoid misuse of U.S. financial systems.

While he acknowledged the accuracy of reports that in some cases illegal immigrants were able to sign up for Bank of America's products and services, he said that such reports are true for numerous U.S. financial institutions and businesses today.

Bank of America created the L.A. pilot program to help customers with little to no credit history build a solid credit history with a leading bank, he remarked, as well as to strengthen relationships with individuals and families the bank hopes will become loyal BofA customers in the future as their financial needs grow.

Lewis outlined the requirements for all program applicants, which include approved ID documents in the form of an unexpired, U.S. government-issued or foreign government-issued identification card. 

While a large number of individuals who are legally in the U.S. do not have Social Security numbers, Lewis reported that 84 percent of the participants in Bank of America's pilot do.  The other 16 percent of participants meet the requirements for government-issued ID as established by the USA PATRIOT Act, U.S. Treasury Department regulations, and internal fraud prevention procedures.

Finally, Bank of America's CEO said that the pilot is nothing more than a new promotion of a secured credit card product that has been available for years.  Bank of America plans to continue its credit card marketing pilot program in the Los Angeles market.

The cards in the pilot program are available through L.A.-area bank branches only.

Published: March 2, 2007


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