"Gunny" Bob repeated falsehood about Bank of America credit cards

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

Newsradio 850 KOA host "Gunny" Bob Newman repeated the false claim that a new Bank of America program offers credit cards "specifically" for "illegal aliens." News reports have noted the bank's statements that the card is intended primarily for people who do not have a solid credit history.

On the February 23 broadcast of his Newsradio 850 KOA show, "Gunny" Bob Newman repeated the falsehood that a new Bank of America program offers "[c]redit cards specifically issued to illegal aliens." While illegal immigrants might be among those who qualify for the new credit card, a February 14 Los Angeles Times article (registration required) reported that "[t]he credit cards are not aimed specifically at illegal immigrants, a bank spokeswoman said, but instead people who lack solid credit histories."

Commenting that the Bank of America program was a "scandal" and that he was "not going to do any business with them," Newman falsely claimed the program is "for issuing illegal aliens credit cards." He continued:

Credit cards specifically issued to illegal aliens. And in -- the public relations damage alone is astounding. God only knows how many accounts are going to be closed because of this scandal. Would you continue to do business -- if you do business with Bank of America, would you con -- are you going to continue to knowing that they have credit cards specifically for illegal aliens in this country?

As Colorado Media Matters has pointed out, while illegal immigrants might be among those who qualify for the new credit card, which the bank has issued under a pilot program in California, Bank of America did not "specifically" create it for them. As the Times further reported:

Bank of America spokeswoman Alexandra C. Trower said the company complied fully with all banking and anti-terrorism laws governing customer identification, which she said permitted the use of taxpayer ID numbers instead of Social Security numbers.

Bank executives said participants needed another form of identification, such as ID cards issued by foreign consulates. Applicants must also have had a Bank of America checking account for at least three months.

William P. Cook, former general counsel of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, said the bank's program was neither illegal nor problematic.

"It's sad that such a forward-thinking move is being mischaracterized as if it were an improper activity," said Cook.

The Charlotte Observer similarly reported on February 14 that Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America is "testing a credit card in Los Angeles that doesn't require a credit history. The cards could be popular with illegal immigrants, who find it difficult to build up a credit record otherwise." The Observer added, "Like with other accounts offered by U.S. banks, customers who use the new credit card need to prove their identity using a government-issued document. But they don't have to provide proof of immigration status or necessarily need a Social Security number":

Customers can get the card if they already have a checking account with the bank that's in good standing for three months. It comes with an upfront fee and a higher-than-average interest rate that can exceed 21 percent.

The bank said the program follows U.S. Patriot Act requirements that banks "know their customers," an effort to thwart money laundering and financial conduits to terrorists launched after Sept. 11. To get the necessary checking account for the card, the bank requires a Social Security number, an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) or other proof of identification, including matricula consular documents issued by the Mexican government.

From the February 23 broadcast of Newsradio 850 KOA's The Gunny Bob Show:

NEWMAN: Another kooky thing that hit the news this week: Bank of America has a program for issuing illegal aliens credit cards. Credit cards specifically issued to illegal aliens. And in -- the public relations damage alone is astounding. God only knows how many accounts are going to be closed because of this scandal. Would you continue to do business -- if you do business with Bank of America, would you con -- are you going to continue to knowing that they have credit cards specifically for illegal aliens in this country? They use the matricula card and some other forms. You don't have to have a Social Security number or credit check or anything like that. They issue the cards because, listen -- illegal aliens have money, but they operate primarily on cash basis. Give 'em a credit card; you're making money on 'em. It's a business move by Bank of America. Ethical? No. Illegal? Apparently not. I mean, I'm not going to do business with them. Would you? And if you were the CEO, would you have made this decision, or is this a dumb business decision?

[...]

CALLER: Hi. I just want to talk about the whole Bank of America thing.

NEWMAN: Right.

CALLER: My husband and I are truck drivers, and we make a lot of money. And when we heard about the whole illegal alien -- they get a credit card --

NEWMAN: Right.

CALLER: -- but we couldn't get one -- we were like, OK, what's the deal with that?

NEWMAN: The -- the deal with that is, is that Bank of America thinks they have -- and might very well be correct -- have discovered a way to make a lot of money off of illegal aliens. We'll see if they actually end up in the black or in the red on this, because they're going to have a lot of accounts closed, a lot of credit cards are going to be sent back cut up, people are going to close their bank accounts and things like that. It just -- we're going to have to see where the, where the figures come out at the end of the day.

CALLER: Well, what's going to happen with us is, we make eight to 10 thousand dollars a month. Well, we're not the only ones. And when we go back home next weekend, we're going to tell them we're going to shut our, our account down -- we've got three accounts with them -- and we're going to tell them why, and then we're going to transfer everything we have to another bank.

NEWMAN: And that's -- I applaud you for that. Now, what you also want to do is, you want to get their corporate headquarters address and the name of the CEO, and you write him a snail mail letter with, with your account information and everything, saying, see, these accounts are closed now and it's because of you, and this is how much money you lost. And that's what everyone has -- really needs to do if they're going to close a Bank of America account.

[...]

NEWMAN: I don't have any Bank of America accounts. If I did, I wouldn't have them anymore, I'll tell you that. I understand the whole making money part; it's a business, right? But one word: Enron. Ethics have to come into play here at some point. Unless you're the CEO of Bank of America, and then it has nothing to do with ethics.

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