|by Jason Steele|
A couple of years ago, I applied for some Amex cards, largely in order to cash in on a big Delta promotion. Amex approved the new cards, and I activated them. A week later, they suspended all my accounts and I received a strange phone call from someone overseas asking for my tax information. This is what is known as a “Financial Review”. I described the entire process in this post, My Experience With Amex’s Financial Review.
The Consumerist Doesn’t Get It
The Consumerist, which is normally pretty savvy about such things, is utterly confused when a reader enquirers about this process. According to the post tittled: “Why Does American Express Need A Copy Of My Wife’s Tax Return?”:
Evan writes that he recently got married, and the newlyweds make more money than they did at this time last year. American Express suspects something, and has suspended their credit card, demanding a copy of his wife’s tax return from last year. What’s going on?
Based on the reader’s description, which is identical to my financial review experience, they have no clue. All they can do is ask:
Some key information is missing here: is he carrying a balance on the card, or paying it off every month? Is he using the card more, spending more money along with his increased income?
None Of These Things Matter
The problem is not his balance, or his payment history. It probably isn’t even his increased spending. Simply put, the problem is Amex. While my experience was that the financial review was triggered by opening up new accounts, I learned that these reviews are often triggered at random. Even if it is not random, there is no point in speculating what caused this. Assuming the reader is not some kind of fraudster or international arms dealer or something, this is just a major annoyance akin to being selected by the TSA for secondary screening.
As I wrote, the problem is really with how sloppy Amex is at executing this review. I don’t know about you, but when I receive a barely audible phone call from a foreign speaker asking for me to fax him a release to see my tax returns, my first instinct is to hang up. When my credit cards stopped working, I realized this was for real. Just to be safe, I called Amex myself to insure this was not some kind of clever fraud. It is not hard to imagine how a scammer could call up and report your card stolen to invalidate your card, and then call up and pretend to be from Amex the next day. Of course, we don’t need scammers to interfere with your accounts when we have Amex doing it at random themselves!
Offensive On Many Levels
Some people are offended by the idea that Amex wants to see your tax returns. Others are offended that they are abruptly canceling your card for a few weeks. I can only imagine the difficulties people have if they were to actually rely on Amex as their sole credit card when traveling. Personally, I stopped using Amex when traveling outside of the United States after discovering that they were charging a foreign transaction fee of 2.7%. Think of it as a negative rewards card, but that is another story.
Ultimately, I chose to comply with their process, but I know that many have quit Amex in disgust over this. The crazy thing is that I hvae never heard of any other bank subjecting it’s customers to this process. In an industry where hundreds of dollars are paid for each new customer acquired, it is amazing that this customer loosing practice still exists. Kudos to The Consumerist for shinning a light on this, but they really should do a little homework first.