Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Is this the face that really belongs on the American Express Card?

“Frankly,” said a junk mail letter, sent for over 25 years to potential customers, “not everybody qualifies for the American Express Card.”

This was back when the card’s appeal was to people who were qualified and trustworthy enough to pay their American Express bills within 30 days. Terms and conditions were mostly in the favor of consumers. American Express was on your side. No wonder people were willing to pay (in those days) an extra $50 a year to have the card.

Then, little by little, the green card slipped down the greasy pole when American Express introduced a gold card, for a higher annual feel. Then both gold and green slipped further down as American Express introduced a platinum card, which has since been topped by yet another card.

As the annual fees grew more and more ridiculous, the benefits of the lower-rung cards begin to vanish. Primary among them was the trust American Express put in its customers. That shank, just as the window to pay up shrank from four weeks to two.

“We have the right to bankrupt you”

This week I opened my American Express bill and found “Detail of Changes to Your Cardmember Agreement” folded in with the bill. Needless to say, American Express didn’t ask me before making the changes.

And here are the killer details:

“If we need to contact you to service your account or to collect amounts you owe, you authorize us (and our affiliates, agents and contractors) to contact you at any number you provide, from which you call us, or at which we  believe we can reach you. We may contact you in any way, such as calling or texting. We may contact you using an automated dialer or prerecorded messages. We may contact you on a mobile, wireless or similar device, even if you are charged for it. “[Italics my own.]

In other words, not only can they harass you to death, they can keep robo-texting your cell phone until you are over your limit and drowning in a deep financial hole. In fact, if you charge your cell phone bill to your American Express card, you can grow more indebted to them every time they harass you.

And if you’re already in a hole, they can drive you into a deeper hole, even bankrupt if they choose. Or destroy your career. They can call you at your office. They can keep calling your boss, a number “at which we believe we can reach you,” until you lose your job.. They can hire thuggish bill collectors with threatening voices to call you.

Hey American Express get rid of that Roman centurion on your credit cards and replace him with Darth Vader.

Or maybe Dracula.

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