Is your credit card being upgraded?

There’s lots of this upgrading going on. Last Saturday, I wrote about Visa cardholders being upgraded to Infinite Visa and Amex Gold cardholders being upgraded to Platinum.

After the column was published, I also heard from Sears cardholders who were getting letters about being upgraded to a Sears MasterCard.

Upgrading is good, I guess, if you get more benefits for the same annual fee. But why can’t the card issuers let you keep the same number as before?

It takes time and effort to change all the pre-authorized payments you may have linked to your credit card. Credit card companies are offering to do these transfers for you and giving you bonus points for the inconvenience. But that requires monitoring, as some cardholders found when their bonus points did not arrive as promised.

Another issue is the use of negative option marketing. The companies send you a letter describing the change. If you don’t want the upgraded card, you have to call and opt out. If you do nothing, you get a new card in the mail — whether you want it or not.

This can be a breeding ground for identity thieves, a forensic accountant told me. What if a fraudster sends out such letters and asks you to call a special number to opt out? There you are, giving out confidential information on the phone, without realizing you’re talking to the wrong people.

His tip: Always call the number on the back of your credit card, not the one that you’re given in a letter or email.

Author: Ellen Roseman

Consumer advocate and personal finance author and instructor.

21 thoughts on “Is your credit card being upgraded?”

  1. The Quebec Consumer Protection Act clearly states that the any credit “raise” has to be requested by the consumer. Also, a consumer cannot forfeit such protection contractually. Based on this, there are a few class actions against the big banks and credit card companies in the province. Yet, they still do it.

    When I received a “raise” on my MC, I politely reminded them never to raise anything unless I specifically request it. When I reminded MC’s customer service of the Consumer Protection Act, they became quite rude and ended the conversation right there. So much for customer service.

    I’m not sure if other provinces have similar acts.

  2. I live in Québec and have never gotten an upgrade offer, so maybe my bank plays by the rules. All they do is continue to raise my credit limit.

    But something in Ellen’s post caught my eye: “Upgrading is good, I guess, if you get more benefits for the same annual fee.”

    Are there people out there who actually pay annual fees for their credit card? I guess some of the rewards cards charge annual fees, but before getting one of those cards I’d do some careful math first to make sure the benefits you get from the card are worth more than the fees. I haven’t paid an annual fee for a credit card in nearly 20 years; pretty much every credit card company offers no-fee cards.

  3. Tanya Madison:

    “If someone does not call us, this will not mean they have chosen to accept the upgrade. A customer who does not call to opt out will receive the card, but will then have to take the second step of calling us to activate the new card in order for the upgrade to occur.”

    Who are you kidding exactly? When it comes to upgrading a department store card for a major credit card, or upgrading a gold card to a platinum card, don’t you think this sort of procedure should be OPT IN? You are putting the burden on your customers, you know those same customers who keep you employed, to do a great deal of running around for nothing. Why not just send your customers a letter that says “Dear sir, would you like to upgrade your Sears card to a Sears Mastercard? __ Yes! __ No thanks!” It could also be useful if you can provide a postage paid envelope as well. See, tactics like yours are exactly why I never do department store credit cards. It’s just a dreadful mess.

  4. Re the card number change, this can also happen if you lose your card or it gets double-swiped, etc. and you get a new card. This will also happen in very large numbers starting this fall as banks roll out “chip and PIN” cards Canada-wide.

    While CIBC and others will have to inconvenience their customers — in this situation their best customers — other banks have automated the process. Indeed, TD’s free EasySwitch service will transfer all pre-authorized arrangements from other cards, both competitors and their own.

    Frankly, I’m baffled by the large number of Canadians who continue to use CIBC’s Aeroplan VISA card. CIBC, AC and AP all seem to be vying with Bell and Rogers for the worst customer service.

    By contrast, when I called TD a few moments ago concerning my credit card, I got a human being within a minute who is based in Canada and was able to answer my questions efficiently and courteously. I can’t remember the last time that happened with any of the others.

  5. For those who received a CIBC offer for automatically upgrading their Aerogold cards to the Infinite cards, the advantages they listed are in fact not applicable — or not an advantage at all, as explained in the following:

    1. If you want to get free bonus points, you can cancel the existing card and reapply for a new card. You will get 15,000 bonus Aeroplan Miles instead of the 2,500 that they give in this negative option marketing.

    2. The Out-of-Province Travel Medical Insurance is not applicable for those over 64 years of age (me included).

    3. Can anybody spend over their credit limit with an Aerogold Visa card? Most merchants have a limit for charging to a credit card to a fraction of your credit limit anyway.

  6. I received a letter from Judy Crawford, Vice President, Customer and Operations, CIBC Credit Card Services. She requested that for security reasons, I sign the back of my new chip enabled CIBC Visa Card.

    I did not ask for a new card although I would appreciate ”moving to the next level of security” that the “chip-enabled” credit card promises. There have been changes/amendments to the Cardholder Agreement sent separately that I neither understand or feel comfortable with. I sense that I have no choice, but to switch to their new card.

    I’m concerned about the language that states “you may be held liable” and “losses are not limited to the Account balance.”


    “If there is a conflict between a term in this Agreement and any other written agreement with us, the term of the other agreement will apply to the extent necessary to resolve the conflict.

    1.Your use of Online Banking or Wealth Management Online after we post the notice means that you agree to and accept this Agreement as amended. If you do not agree to a change in this Agreement, you must immediately stop using Online Banking and Wealth Management Online.

    You acknowledge that the amount of Losses for which you may be held liable is not limited to the Account balance if the Account has overdraft or similar protection, or by your credit limit if it is a credit card Account or loan Account.”

  7. Sears update.

    I wasn’t happy with this, so I called Sears to cancel. On my phone bill, I received a charge for 3-way calling. When the foreign operator transferred me to the cancellation department, they apparently charged me for that service. It was not disclosed obviously.

    I am disputing the bill but watch your phone bill if you call Sears.

  8. About the CIBC Infinite Card: We have also received the letter with the new card we must take and change all of our pre-authorized payments. This happened after paying our annual fee.

    I called to say I wanted to keep my old card, which I just paid for. They said too bad. I said I was going to switch to another card issuer. They did not care.

    No wonder CIBC is having problems!

  9. I too have just been sent new cards and realized that my account number has been changed on my statement. I was furious and spent a half an hour on the phone with CIBC.

    We’ve been customers for 20 years. They did not care. I have emailed the VP to no avail.

    How do we stop this?

  10. Hey: After Googling Judy Crawford, VP, CIBC credit card services, I came across this site. It’s nice to see I’m not as stupid and ill informed as the CIBC Visa customer service agent made me feel!!

    I just don’t get it, why does the number have to change? And this negative marketing thing: If you’re like me, you don’t read every bit of junk mail that comes from the banks. They shouldn’t be allowed to change your number without your written consent.

    Let me guess, someone in their security department said the account number has to change. So rather than do the courteous thing and call and get written permission, they go for the negative option marketing. As the old saying goes, it is easier to beg forgiveness than ask for permission.

    In my case, I received an “urgent” voice message at home to call CIBC Visa right away. Oh oh, my card number has been stolen or perhaps I’m a day late making a payment??

    Turns out my old CIBC Aerogold account was shut down and unless I activated my new Infinite card, I would no longer be a recognized VISA account holder. What’s up with that!!

    I saw the card in the mail and chose not to activate it, as my old card was good until February of 2009. Wrong again.

    So here I am being told over the phone by this person from VISA that I have a problem for not opting out and not calling in on time to activate the card. So I write a letter to Ms. Crawford to express my displeasure.

    What I don’t get is all the effort and money they spend to supposedly make it easy (and free!) to transfer your pre-approved payments. It just makes no sense at all and they could have avoided all the hassle and the cost at their end by just letting us keep the same number.

    Good thing I wasn’t on the road (like I was last week) when my old card was de-activated.

    Hey Judy, if you’re out there, this really stinks. I’m sure you got a real nice bonus for agreeing to take this on!!

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