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Only a hard choice will clear credit

I have been having a problem with American Express credit card company for over a year, and it refuses to listen to what I have been trying to tell it.

In November 2000, I was contacted by a credit collection agency for American Express, which informed me that I owe a large sum of money. Since I had not used my card for about two years prior, I explained that there should be no charges and it was completely paid up. I looked for my card, could not find it, and filed a police report for stolen/lost credit card.

I had never received a bill or phone call or I would have called immediately. I contacted the fraud division of American Express and explained the situation. It said it would check and get back to me. The fraud division sent me a standard letter stating that since I had made prior payment arrangements the case is closed and is not considered fraud. I never made any prior credit arrangements and tried to call the fraud division back, but no one would speak to me.

I received a copy of my credit report; it showed that I owed American Express money which I had never paid it. I discovered an address on my credit report that I have never lived or worked at. I tracked it down to a suspect that I know, approached him and asked him about the charge. This person admitted that he had used my credit card without my knowledge or consent, intended to pay it off and made credit arrangements so I would not find out.

I called American Express and spoke to a customer service rep and found out that the bills were mailed to the address that was on my credit report. I asked to speak to the fraud division. It refused to speak to me and requested that I mail the new information I had. I supplied the fraud division with the suspect's name and information and got the same standard letter stating that since I made prior credit arrangements, this is not considered fraud.

I wrote to the president of the company and received a call from the executive assistant. I explained the whole situation to her, and she said she would have the fraud division reopen the case and look further into it. After four months, I wrote another letter to her, since I had heard from neither her nor the fraud division. I received a letter back stating that since I made prior arrangements this is not considered fraud. I have called the executive assistant several times, but she does not return my calls. I have also written to the credit bureau; it keeps saying this American Express information will remain on my report.

I do not know what to do at this point to have American Express deleted from my credit report. I hope that you can help me. Daniel O'Connell

Response: Unfortunately, we cannot. American Express is standing firm by its decision. Only you can help yourself at this point. We suspect you know that already. Until a formal complaint is lodged with the police against the person who used your card without your consent and ran up the charges, American Express cannot act.

You are faced with a tough choice: File charges against this individual, a relative, and clean up your credit report, or do nothing and live with the consequences.

Service call charges

On March 5, I called an appliance center about repairing a control knob on a washer. I was quoted a $38 service call fee, so I asked it to send out a repairman. The repairman came, saw the problem and made the repair in less than 15 minutes. The bill came to $115.45 and included a 10 percent senior citizen discount. I thought this was extremely high but was told the labor rate was $85 an hour plus $20 for a small knob.

Does this seem like a usual charge for this repair, or was the company taking advantage of me? Robert Cave

Response: We can understand your shock that the bill was so high for what was a quick and simple repair. However, the time to find out what the labor costs are is before the repairman comes to your house. Calling several companies and inquiring beforehand can eliminate the sticker shock upon seeing the bill. Be sure to find out whether the service call fee is a separate charge. Some companies charge it only if there are no additional labor costs. This appears to be the case in this instance, since there is no separate service call charge on your bill.

Remember that any time you hire a professional service technician, you are also paying for more than just the time spent on the repair. You are paying for the cost of doing business, from training, insurance and rent to equipment and transportation. Since the technician traveled to you, you also have to factor in the amount of time that took.

Action solves problems and gets answers for you. If you have a question, or your own attempts to resolve a consumer complaint have failed, write Times Action, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or call your Action number, (727) 893-8171, or, outside of Pinellas, toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 8171, to leave a recorded request.

Requests will be accepted only by mail or voice mail; calls cannot be returned. We will not be responsible for personal documents, so please send only photocopies. If your complaint concerns merchandise ordered by mail, we need copies of both sides of your canceled check.

We may require additional information or prefer to reply by mail; therefore, readers must provide a full mailing address, including ZIP code. Names of letter writers will not be omitted except in unusual circumstances. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.