'GMA' Gets Answers: Some Credit Card Companies Financially Profiling Customers


In Johnson's case, American Express refused to say which stores he'd visited might have caused the company concern. Johnson says that's especially baffling since his card purchases were at major retailers like Ruby Tuesdays, XM Satellite Radio and Amazon.com.

He says the only shopping trip he can determine was out of the ordinary was a September visit to a Wal-Mart in Southeast Atlanta. It was the first time he had used his American Express card at that store.

"The majority of the retailers I went to are not in my neighborhood. Coincidentally, though, the one time I went to the Wal-mart in the area that I live, the next month I get a letter saying my credit limit is reduced," Johnson said.

Gripes Justified?

For more than a month after he received the letter, Johnson says he tried to contact American Express to get his credit limit restored. He says he pointed out to customer service representatives that in addition to his personal account with American Express, he also has business accounts with the company, all of which he says are in good standing.

Johnson says at one point he was even transferred to an assistant in the executive office of the vice president who signed the letter announcing his credit limit reduction.

"She said we don't find anything out of the ordinary here, other than the fact that we're feeling the heat and the pressure from the economy. But, other than that, we think that your gripes are justified," Johnson said he was told.

"GMA" asked American Express to discuss Johnson's case and the practice of behavioral analysis in an on-camera interview. The company refused the request and instead issued the following written statement:

"Our intent is to strike the right balance between accommodating our card members' spending needs and, at the same time, prudently managing credit risk," the statement reads. "While we may use additional data points, the driving factor for any credit limit reduction is the customer's debt level."

Credit Crunched

Both Johnson and Manning question that statement, especially in light of the recent government bank bailout. In January 2009, American Express became a bank holding company and received more than $3 billion in taxpayer money as part of the Troubled Assets Relief Program.

"I think the fact that American Express has taken bailout money is one of the most appalling parts of this story," Johnson said. "Here you have a company that's obviously in dire straits, but, in trying to turn the company around, they actually throw some of their best customers under the bus."

In an interview broadcast on "GMA," Cuomo asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about Johnson's concerns.

"American Express took money from TARP," Cuomo asked. "Are you going to enforce how banks get to use this money? Credit card companies could be the next wave."

"They could be the next wave," Pelosi said. "The curtain has been pulled back on how the financial services community has mis-served the American people."

Pelosi says she believes new accountability standards being implemented by Congress will prevent companies like American Express from taking tax dollars and then refusing to lend them to credit-worthy customers.

In the meantime, Johnson says he just longs for the days before he returned from his honeymoon to find his credit score tarnished.

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