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BIG BROTHER’S IN THE CREDIT CARD BUSINESS

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All you consumers - Big Brother has gone into the credit card business. It has been revealed that American Express not only signs customers up for credit cards but also sells the information on their spending habits to other organizations. These companies pay a nice sum to get the dope on a person's lifestyle for use in their marketing business.

I must say that when I heard what Amex had been doing I was terribly worried. I thought that my buying habits were privileged information, and that the less people knew about my lifestyle the better off I was.My imagination went wild.

"Hello, American Express? This is the Tearduct Department Store. What have you got on A. Buchwald of Washington, D.C.?"

"Just a minute. Here it is on the computer. He buys cheap shoes."

"We suspected that. Anything else?"

"He wears smudged eyeglasses. He only cleans them once every other week. He buys Edge shaving cream, Crest toothpaste and Mitchum deodorant. He buys one stick every three weeks, so we assume that he perspires more than the average media person."

"Anything about his love life?"

"This year he bought a dozen Valentine cards at a Hallmark store in Santa Monica, Calif., so we guess that he's quite a swinger."

"And sports?"

"We show that he purchased a can of tennis balls in 1988 but hasn't bought one since. This could either mean he has given up the game or found a way to come out on the court empty-handed. We suspect the latter."

"Will you bring up what you have on his dining habits?"

"He loves to eat and will spare no expense to stuff himself. His last restaurant bill indicates that he had baked lasagna, linguini, roast duck and creme caramel, with a bottle of expensive Chateau Talbot Bordeaux. He gave the waiter a 15 percent tip and the captain 10. He also bought a stuffed panda for the lady he was with, which cost $50, and it was charged to his card."

"The pieces of the puzzle are starting to fill in. What about his health?"

"We're in luck. He paid his doctor's bill with his American Express card. The man is overweight and is getting deaf. I would target him for a hearing aid pitch. His doctor gave him an over-the-counter prescription for poison ivy and it cost him $123 at the drugstore."

"So far his profile fits our needs. The man is a natural for a new living room furniture suite."

"Hey, wait a minute, something just came up on the screen. It says that Buchwald has received four parking tickets in the last eight months. He paid them with his American Express card but failed to add a tip for the meter maid."

"We get the picture. Give us his unlisted telephone number and we'll turn it over to our junk phone department. He'll go crazy trying to figure out how we got through to him."

Under pressure from New York state, Amex agreed to notify its 20 million cardholders that it does compile profiles of them, which it then "rents" out.

But it has agreed to take a customer's name off the list if he or she begs them to.