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"Disappointed Couple in the Kitchen Cutting Up Credit Card", via Wavebreakmedia LTD, ThinkStock.

“Disappointed Couple in the Kitchen Cutting Up Credit Card”, via Wavebreakmedia LTD, ThinkStock.

All those unwanted credit card applications arriving in your mailbox, would you ever consider just handing them out to strangers so they, too, can take advantage of your good credit? Of course you wouldn’t. But if you’re ripping up your credit card applications – even into tiny little pieces – and throwing them in the trash, you may as well be handing them out.

Earlier this year, one man documented online how he tore up a credit card application (his own), taped it back together, filled it out with a change of both address and telephone number, and sent it to the credit card company. The credit card arrived at the new address (his parents’ house), ready to be activated.

The outrage here is that the credit card companies practically carpet the nation with unsolicited credit card offers, pretty dangerous as these applications can easily be stolen from mailboxes or the trash. The credit card companies’ advice for dealing with this avalanche of sensitive information is as follows: Throw unwanted applications in the trash – but be sure to TEAR THEM UP FIRST to prevent thieves from assuming your identity! Maybe the companies didn’t count on thieves knowing how to use tape.

Right about now you’re either feeling completely betrayed by the credit card companies’ sage protective measures – you thought you could trust them! – or you’re wondering if maybe, just maybe, the gentleman’s experience was a fluke.

If only! Straight out of Chicago, more disturbing news. The NBC news affiliate there tried the same thing – with five instant credit offers. They ripped up the applications, then taped them back together and filled out each one, often having to write around the tape (since they taped the front; the guy with the Website taped the back to make writing easier – potential credit thieves take note!). One application included a change of address where the applicant had never lived. In several weeks’ time, three cards were mailed out – one to the changed address – with limits totaling $21,000. No questions asked. Not even a phone call to verify the applicant’s identity. Let’s hear it for easy credit!

The issuing banks –Chase, MBNA and Bank of America – admitted that maybe the applications did kind of squeak through their rigorous screening processes. They ultimately defended their decisions, however, based on the fact that the signatures, Social Security numbers, and birth dates matched those of individuals with good credit.

So what’s the message here? As long as the signature, social security number and birth date belong to someone who has good credit, it’s completely okay if it’s written on an application that appears to have, at one point, been destroyed! No big deal if you’ve changed your address, we’ll send it wherever you specify –whatever’s convenient!

No word yet on whether these banks will accept “applications” on cocktail napkins, but it sounds like a worthy experiment.

Does their verification process extend much past an applicant’s signature, birth date and Social Security number? Are the credit card companies so completely on autopilot that they can ignore red flags like these? Are they really doing all they can to protect our information along the way?

Stories like these continue to reinforce the need for consumers to take every step possible to protect their information. Credit card companies won’t take care of it for you! If you aren’t taking advantage of every credit offer that comes to you – and hopefully you’re not – chances are you won’t miss the offers if they stopped coming to you altogether. Step 1: Opt out of having all credit card offers sent to you in the mail by calling (888) 5-OPT-OUT.

In the meantime, step 2: Buy a shredder and feed it with any remaining offers you don’t plan to use, turning them into confetti to celebrate a new year without all the junk mail.

Originally posted at Credit.com.