Cashing In On Credit Ratings


December 02, 1990|By Dave Barry

Recently I received an exciting offer in the mail from my credit-card company. Usually their offers involve merchandise that no actual human would ever need.

"Dear Mr. Dave Barry," they say. "How many times have you asked yourself: 'Why can't I cook shish kebab and enjoy recorded music?' Well, Mr. Dave Barry, because you are a valued customer who has consistently demonstrated, by paying us three million percent interest, that you have the financial astuteness of a lint ball, we are making available to you a Special Opportunity to purchase this deluxe combination gas barbecue grill and CD player."

But this recent offer was even better. This was an offer to sell me my own credit rating. Yes. One of the great benefits of living in America is that, regardless of your race or religion or hygiene habits, you are entitled to have a credit rating maintained by large corporations with powerful computers that know everything about you.

For example, let's say that this morning you deposited your paycheck at the bank, made a phone call, wrote a check for your electric bill and charged some gasoline on your credit card. By this afternoon, thanks to high-speed laser fiber-optic data transmission, the computers will know every sexual fantasy you had while you were doing these things. And don't think they keep it to themselves, either. They are as human as the next person. They go to computer parties, they have a few too many diskettes, and the next thing you know they're revealing your intimate secrets at the rate of four billion per second.

That's why I was so excited about this offer from my credit-card company to sell me the TRW Credentials service. TRW is a large company that collects credit information about people and sells it. According to the TRW Credentials offer, if I give them $20 a year, they'll let me see my information.

The offer states: "Financialexperts recommend that you carefully review your credit report twice a year to check its information and make certain that it is accurate."

In other words -- correct me if I am wrong here -- they're telling me that I should give them $20 a year so I can look at the information about me that they collected without my permission and have been selling for years to God alone knows who so I can see if it's incorrect.

Which it very well could be. Because even with computers, things sometimes go wrong. For example, just recently we got a phone call at home, at night, from a woman from a collection agency. She said we'd be in big trouble if we didn't turn over four cable-TV boxes, which she said we had failed to return to the cable company when we moved a year ago. I explained that (1) it was only two boxes, and (2) we had made three appointments with the cable company to get them, but nobody ever showed up, and (3) we would love to get rid of them, and (4) maybe she could get the cable company to come get them.

The woman said, basically, that it was too late for that, because this matter had been turned over to a collection agency, which is apparently several levels above the U.S. Supreme Court, and we better hand over four cable boxes or this would go on our Permanent Credit Record.

So I called up the cable company, and joined the millions of Americans on hold, waiting to talk to one of the nation's estimated four cable-company service representatives, two of whom are on break.

Finally, miraculously, I got through, and even more miraculously, they came out and got our boxes. And I was feeling very good about America until the collection-agency woman called again, at night, to inform me that we'd be in big trouble if we didn't turn over the boxes. All four of them.

So I don't know what our credit record says. I wouldn't be surprised if it holds us largely to blame for the savings-and-loan scandal. So I'm definitely interested in the TRW Credentials offer.

However, I don't like to do business with an outfit unless I know something about it. So I've decided to develop a file on TRW. I'd certainly appreciate anything you can contribute. But I don't want any wild speculative unfounded rumors, such as:

* TRW is the world's largest distributor of hard-core pornography.

* TRW has destroyed two-thirds of the Earth's ozone layer.

* TRW is a satanic vampire cult headed by the love child of Jim Bakker and Leona Helmsley.

There is no need to run the risk that absurd statements such as these might get into print. In fact, it would probably be a wise idea for TRW to examine my file, from time to time, just to make sure nothing inaccurate appeared in there.

I'm sure we can work something out. *

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