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Last Updated: Saturday, 10 April, 2004, 12:51 GMT 13:51 UK
Nine-year-old offered credit card
Letters

When Ian from Dundee returned from shopping one day to the usual mountain of junk mail, he was shocked to find that this time, even his nine-year-old daughter had been targeted.

Sarah had received an offer for an Aqua credit card, with a credit limit of 1,000.

In disbelief he read through the details, and found that in the marketing literature the lender had also claimed: "Relax, we are a responsible lender."

I think the credit card companies and banks are just offering credit cards, loans and so on, far too freely to people
Ian
He told BBC Radio 4's Money Box programme: "It just amazes me. It is not legal for anyone under 18 to have a credit card anyway.

"I think the credit card companies and banks are just offering credit cards, loans and so on, far too freely to people."

List of names

After some investigation, Money Box tracked down the company that runs the Aqua card, which was not an easy process.

Based in an office in Tunbridge Wells, it does not advertise because it prefers to select potential customers, rather than be approached by them.

Worryingly, Money Box discovered it seeks out people who would not normally be offered cards, such as people not on voting lists, and people without credit records.

When it finds them, it offers the card, and if they accept, they could be charged up to 35% annual interest.

It purchases lists of names and addresses from other firms. In this case, it bought its list from a photo processing company.

At some point Sarah's father had sent away some films for processing in her name, and did not spot that he should have ticked a small box saying she was under 18.

Preference services

Money saving expert Martin Lewis said Sarah will most likely get other offers too now. He told the programme:

"It may not be for a credit card, it may be for a personal loan, maybe for car insurance, who knows... She is now on one list, counted as an adult."

This little girl is being treated as an adult in the eyes of marketers [who] smile with glee at somebody else to sell their products to
Martin Lewis, Money Saving Expert
There are ways to remove names from lists like this, as Martin explained:

"There are various different preference services for telephone and for mail that hopefully stop you getting junk mail."

But the onus would be on Sarah and her father to do this.

Martin Lewis' conclusion is unforgiving: "This little girl is being treated as an adult in the eyes of marketers. They smile with glee at somebody else to sell their products to."

When approached, Aqua Card was adamant that if Sarah had applied for a card, she would have been rejected because it checks to see if the person applying has an adult bank account first.

It also said it would be writing to Sarah to apologise and point out that it is common practice for most card firms to buy lists of names and addresses.

BBC Radio 4's Money Box was broadcast on Saturday, 10 April, 2004 at 1204 BST.

The programme was repeated on Sunday, 11 April, 2004 at 2102 BST.



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