6 credit-based conspiracy theories


Much like the suspicions that the moon landing was faked or that aliens are stashed in the Nevada desert, conspiracy theories concerning credit cards are ... out there.

To some, card accounts don't exist just to make paying for stuff easy and safe. Rather, a not-so-innocent back story with covert players is involved.

If you wonder about unseen forces dictating specific outcomes, you aren't alone. According to a University of Chicago study, about half of the U.S. population agrees with at least one type of conspiracy theory, be it political, social or financial -- or a combination of all three.

Here are just a few theories surrounding your seemingly neutral piece of plastic. They may sound far-fetched, yet believers are convinced there's something fishy going on. Experts, unsurprisingly, often draw far different conclusions.

6 credit-based conspiracy theories

1. The U.S. government wants us to overborrow. Policymakers are deliberately luring the public into debt, according to some on the financial blogosphere, including "Investor Junkie," an anonymous writer for personal finance blog WiseBread. After all, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis clearly states that personal consumption expenditures account for about two-thirds of domestic spending, making it "the primary engine that drives future economic growth." It's a collusion to ensure a country full of constant shoppers -- even if debt is a result. Just recall President George W. Bush's instructions for Americans to hit the mall right after 9/11. In short, credit cards are easy for most to obtain because politicians pander to Wall Street. With access to extra funds, we're compelled to charge when our cash runs out.

The reality: Bruce McClary, vice president of public relations for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, has heard this theory many times, particularly from clients seeking external reasons for their money woes: "Some people want to believe their problems are because of a force outside of their control. They're trying to remove responsibility."

McClary agrees that a sound economy relies on consumer spending, but, "The government prefers people be healthy consumers. That's better for the economy than people who spend out of control and get to the point they can't repay." As evidence, McClary points to the Federal Trade Commission and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: "These are government agencies working round the clock to keep you out of debt."

2. It's the wealthy elite, not the government, that wants us enslaved with debt. The world's oldest and richest families, including the Rockefellers and Rothschilds, as well as banks and corporations, make sure the rest of us are in a perpetual state of financial insecurity. Believers, such as alternative personal finance journalist and author of "Why Things Are Falling Apart and What We Can Do About It" Charles Hugh Smith, call it "cartel capitalism." Ordinary citizens are forced to borrow for essentials, but the wealthy do so for investments, which only make them richer. The public is lulled into accepting living beyond their means while the system actively sets up barriers to independence. The antidote? Stop paying the bills, claim some debt slavery theorists, from credit card balances to mortgages. After that, the playing field will recalibrate, we get to keep everything we charged or borrowed and jobs will be plentiful.

The reality: Nonsense, says Patrick O'Reilly, author of "Undue Influence: Cons, Scams and Mind Control" and former chair of Bay Area Skeptics, an organization that encourages critical thinking and accuracy in the media and in schools. There is no conspiracy to keep the public down, he insists. "This one comes from people feeling vulnerable."

As for the premise that we would be better off by not paying any of our debts? "Silly," says O'Reilly. It won't happen, yet even if it did, an improved economy wouldn't be the outcome. In reality, you'll run the risk of being sued and possibly lose your home or other assets.

A blanket effort by the government to freeze firearms manufacturers or dealers out of the banking system would be unwarranted, unfair, unwise and perhaps unconstitutional.

-- James B. Jacobs
New York University School of Law

3. President Obama is pressuring banks to prevent us from arming ourselves. The current administration is using a cunning initiative, dubbed "Operation Choke Point," to reduce the sale and ownership of firearms. According to The Blaze, a news website founded by Libertarian talk radio personality Glenn Beck, the government is pressuring banks to cease services to gun sellers, including processing credit card transactions. Sure, they claim they're clamping down on illegal payday lenders and pornographers, but their true intention is to weaken the Second Amendment to the point where citizens will no longer be able to purchase and own guns. Just ask Kelly McMillan, whose family has been in the firearms business for decades, and all of a sudden, the bank would not continue to conduct business with him. He says the decision was politically motivated.

The reality: So is the White House surreptitiously eroding the second amendment with such initiatives as Operation Choke Point? When leading credit card payment processors such as sever ties with gun sellers, as it did with Hyatt Gun Shop of Charlotte, North Carolina, it can seem that way. However, the Operation involves only online gun sales (which can be problematic), leaving face-to-face transactions at gun stores alone. Further, major credit card companies, such as American Express and Discover have issued statements that transactions for legal gun sales are not impacted and will continue as normal.

Regarding the conspiracy, James B. Jacobs, a professor of constitutional law and the courts at New York University School of Law, says the facts are murky. "A narrowly focused effort to persuade a bank not to facilitate the operations of a specific business engaged in illegal practices might well be a permissible and desirable enforcement strategy," says Jacobs. However, "A blanket effort by the government to freeze firearms manufacturers or dealers out of the banking system would be unwarranted, unfair, unwise and perhaps unconstitutional."

4. First computer chips in credit cards, next in our flesh. You know those radio-frequency identification devices (RFIDs) that are now being embedded in your credit cards? It's just the initial stage of a diabolical plot, according to apocalypse theorists found on websites such as Now The End Begins. Plastic is merely the testing ground for the technology's true purpose. Soon we will all have them implanted under our skin, a prediction purported to be verified by a report by NBC on technological developments. The "mandatory" computer chips will be marketed as a convenience and security measure, reported The New American, a John Birch Society publication. We'll be able to buy items without checking out, as the RFID chips will tally the purchases and deduct the cost from our accounts. The chip will also track our whereabouts and monitor behavior. If we don't obey, the government will switch the chip off, leaving us without the ability to access our funds.

The reality: HoaxSlayer, a website created to debunk myths, researched the contention, and found that the NBC News segment never mentioned the mandatory nature of RFID implants, and the premise itself is lacking all credibility. Words were not minced: Claims that the government will use the chips to track and control the moves of all their citizens "is paranoid nonsense perpetrated by conspiracy theory loonies."

Americans are particularly tempted by theories about money and there are many alleged plots involving banking.

-- Michael Barkun
Syracuse University

5. Credit cards are part a secretive group's plot to take over the world. A highly powerful organization has been working to eliminate sovereign countries for centuries. The motive: to establish global dominance. One key aspect is the theory of electronic conspiracy. Believers claim that the intent is to promote consumers' increasing dependence upon electronic banking and technology, including credit cards and online shopping. The grand coup will be when the superpowers erase all data from everyone's bank accounts in one fell swoop. Chaos will erupt, slavery will ensue, civilization will be destroyed and a New World Order will reign.

The reality: "There are some theories that grow from a grain of truth, but this is not one of them," says Michael Barkun, author of "A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America" and professor emeritus of political science at Syracuse University. "Americans are particularly tempted by theories about money and there are many alleged plots involving banking." The electronic aspect has been around for quite a while, says Barkun, "There was a period where the theorists were into bar codes, claiming they're the mark of the beast (the Antichrist). Conspiracy theory ideas never die, they just get recycled."

6. And finally, feminists use credit cards offer to destroy the family. Radical feminists have been on the warpath against the traditional family unit for decades, say some in the men's rights movement, including Henry Makow, a Canadian conspiracy theorist (and, interestingly, inventor of Scruples, the famous board game about moral dilemmas). How do they fulfill their devious scheme to displace men from their rightful leadership role as head of the household? By sneakily promoting women's economic independence that can be gained, in part, by access to credit.

The reality: Feminists are not manipulating credit to spread their wicked agenda, says O'Reilly, although he does acknowledge that the danger can feel real to proponents. "This is an interesting one," says O'Reilly. "It hearkens back to an era that hasn't existed for a long time, if ever. It's just a fantasy, this image of the mother at home taking care of the house, the man coming home from work, she gets his slippers, fixes him a drink. That is a TV version of the good old days." So what's behind it? "When women have access to credit, they can leave," says O'Reilly: "These are males who feel threatened and scared. Women are taking their financial power. It's one more weapon to emasculate the hardworking American male."

Whether you believe any of these ideas about credit cards and the companies that issue them is up to you. There's nothing wrong with informed skepticism, and entertaining even outlandish conclusions can make life a little more interesting. Besides, as Neil Armstrong once said, "people love conspiracy theories." Speculation won't end until humans stop taking steps on this or any planet.

See related: Controversy erupts over credit card payments for guns, Implantable credit card RFID chips: convenient, but creepy

Published: April 6, 2015

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