WASHINGTON, Aug. 22, 2005 — Officials at JP Morgan Chase have apologized and promised to improve their screening policies, after a credit card solicitation letter sent to a 54-year-old naturalized American citizen came addressed to "Palestinian Bomber."
The form letter for a Visa Platinum card arrived earlier this month at the home of Sami Habbas, a grocery store manager from Corona, Calif. The words "Palestinian Bomber" appear above his address and the salutation reads, "Dear Palestinian Bomber." The document included the signature of Carter Franke, chief marketing officer for Chase Card Services.
Habbas is a naturalized U.S. citizen of Palestinian heritage. He told ABC News he is "extremely upset" at receiving the letter, pointing out that he has lived in the United States for 51 years and also served in the U.S. Army, receiving an honorable discharge in 1969.
"It's upsetting, derogatory and slanderous," Habbas told ABC News. "I have no idea how this sort of thing happened."
Habbas was even more shocked when, on several occasions, he said he called an 800-number for JP Morgan Chase and spoke to operators in an effort to complain. Each time, he says the operators called up his information on a computer but apparently didn't catch on. According to Habbas, "The operators always said, 'Yes, Mr. Palestinian Bomber, how can we help you?' "
After receiving the letter and his experiences with the operators, Habbas contacted the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, D.C., a Muslim civil liberties group. CAIR denounced the Chase letter as "racist" and asked JP Morgan Chase to launch an investigation, conduct sensitivity training and issue a formal apology to Habbas.
In a statement, Chase vice president Kelly Presta blamed the incident on information in a list purchased from a third-party vendor. The company said it was taking steps to improve the screening procedures and offered "sincere apologies" to anyone offended by the letter.
"Although no Chase employee was involved in creating this information, we are embarrassed by this incident and regret that our automatic screening procedures did not catch this erroneous information," said Presta, executive vice president of Chase Card Services.
It is unclear if the person responsible for the letter knew Habbas was of Palestinian descent or simply guessed. A CAIR official said Habbas is a fairly common Arab name.