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Credit Card Change Just Didn't Register

March 17, 1988|DON G. CAMPBELL

Question: I am presently involved in a dispute with American Express Card Registry and Discover Card. My problem centers around a change of address I filed with the registry in July, '87. I phoned AmEx Registry in July to change my address and notify the various credit-card companies of said change.

I received an acknowledgement in which I was told that it could take up to two billing cycles for the address change to be recorded by the individual credit-card companies.

In November I received a statement from Discover Card (forwarded to me by the post office) saying that my account was past due. I immediately sent them a check for the balance due, along with a letter explaining that I had moved and notified AmEx in July.

Two days after I sent my check and explanation, Discover Card sent me a letter saying that my card was canceled. I phoned them and was told the address had never been changed and that I could get a valid card only by reapplying.

I contacted AmEx Registry to tell them Discover had never been notified of my move. AMEX insists that it had notified them. Neither company is accepting responsibility and my credit record is in jeopardy. Do I have any recourse?--A.C.

Answer: There's this crack in the Wonder World of computerized information transmittal, and you fell into it up to your eyebrows. The source of your problem, according to Jack McRae, who heads up the western regional office of Discover member services, is that the card number you supplied to AmEx Credit Card Registry was missing a digit.

Discover cards have 16 digits and the number you gave AmEx had only 15. That doesn't sound like a horrendous omission, but, unfortunately, it's just enough off the mark to turn a computer into a gibbering idiot. McRae checked Discover's files, both by the 15-digit number supplied by AmEx and by your name, and drew a complete blank.

Thus, even when an erroneous card number is suspected, but in the absence of any way to check it, the only conclusion Discover can reach is that you haven't moved at all and are simply not paying your bill.

At Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where American Express Credit Card Registry is headquartered, a spokesperson for the company conceded that your situation "happens often, and while our agents screen these changes that come in and can usually spot errors and call to rectify them, their hands are tied if there's no phone number given--then we've got problems."

The registry service ($15 for the first year) is an automatic "trigger" mechanism whenever an American Express cardholder member calls or writes to report a stolen or lost credit card of any kind.

"We arrange for an immediate cancellation of the old card and a replacement. Address changes are also handled without requiring any other effort on the part of the cardholder."

But, while AmEx's agents are familiar with the correct digits used by the major credit cards--MasterCard uses 16 but Visa will vary. ("Some of them," the spokesperson said, "have four sets of four digits, but others have one set of four digits and then three sets of three digits.")

The probability of an error on the member's part leaves AmEx powerless "unless we've been provided with a phone number to straighten it out. All we can do, otherwise, is provide the vendor or card company (in this case Discover) with the number given us and pray."

Don't despair, however. Any damage to your credit record is unlikely, according to Discover's McRae.

"If she'll call us and explain the situation (at (800) 858-5588), we'll look into it and straighten it out with all the credit-reporting services. We do this monthly, anyway, but if this requires a separate, manual, operation we'll be glad to do it.

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