WASHINGTON – Lawmakers are lashing out at Bank of America Corp. over its new program to offer credit cards to customers without Social Security numbers, saying it creates a dangerous loophole for terrorists and illegal immigrants.
Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., called for a federal investigation of the program on Wednesday, sending Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff a letter requesting a review of the program.
"After September 11, we were told that money was the lifeblood of terrorists, and that we should do everything possible to block their access to financial resources," Tancredo said in a statement. "Today we are hearing a far different message: Bank of America, it's everywhere terrorists want to be."
The program welcomes applicants without a Social Security number and credit history if they have held a checking account with the bank for three months without an overdraft, The Wall Street Journal first reported in Tuesday editions.
Another Republican lawmaker criticized the program, saying it should be stopped to avoid security risks with illegal immigrant members of the program.
"If an individual wants to get a credit card, they can get that in their home country," Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., told FOX News.
"This is something that is of deep concern to me, that Bank of America would choose to market to those that have chosen to break U.S. law to enter this country and then they would give credit to them," Blackburn said.
Bank of America stands by its program, saying that it complies with all U.S. banking and anti-terrorism laws. Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., said a loophole in a Treasury regulation allows Bank of America to act within the law.
"It's risking our security and it's happening because the administration and Democrats in Congress won't close this loophole," Royce told FOX News.
In 2004, Royce unsuccessfully tried to close the loophole, a provision in the Patriot Act that allows banks to use unsecured forms of identification — like the easily obtained matricula consular cards issued by the Mexican government — to open bank accounts, transfer funds and do other transactions.
"The American public should demand that this loophole be closed," Royce said, calling it a controversial flaw that allows banks to take advantage of U.S. law.
Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., said the program should be reviewed but he's a "little skeptical" that the program will threaten U.S. security.
"I think it bears looking into and obviously if there's something being done to make it easier for terrorists to strike America, we need to close that down," Bayh said. "I think we ought to not be hysterical about it until we get the facts."
The program was tested last year at five Bank of America branches in Los Angeles. It was expanded to 51 branches in Los Angeles County last week.