Business & Tech

CONSUMER ALERT

A credit card convenience that raises privacy issues

FILE - In this July 18, 2012, file photo, a pedestrian walks past credit card logos posted on a downtown storefront in Atlanta. After a stint of frugality, Americans have returned to their borrowing ways. But are they getting into the kinds of debt trouble that lead to recessions? In 2017, U.S. consumers now owe roughly $12.73 trillion to banks and other lenders for mortgages, car loans and credit card spending, according to the New York Federal Reserve. That exceeds even the total before the last financial crisis. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

AP

We all get new credit cards occasionally — our old ones expire or we leave a wallet on top of the car and drive away. For me, it was a case of credit card fraud that led Capital One to freeze my account and issue a new card. When it arrived, the card sat in an envelope unused for months. But then I noticed a subscription service was still charging my account monthly even though I hadn’t updated my online payment information.

So I investigated.

Advertisement

It turns out all the major credit card companies now offer services that provide merchants with updated account information for cards that have been reissued after expiration, loss, or theft. These so-called “updaters” are used to ensure payments are not interrupted on any service or subscription that is set up for automatic billing.

No doubt, these are convenient services — for instance, they keep video streaming subscriptions and regular charitable donations running smoothly. At the same, there is something a bit off-putting about the idea that personal account information is automatically being forwarded to businesses and other organizations.

Get Talking Points in your inbox:
An afternoon recap of the day’s most important business news, delivered weekdays.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

“For some people, understandably so, it can feel a little intrusive,” said Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst for CreditCards.com. “It can make people feel a little queasy that that information would be provided … without them having anything to do with it.”

Updaters have been around for a few years, but they are now becoming increasingly common. At this point, though, it is unclear how – or if – consumers can determine whether any of their automated payments could be affected. After discovering the unexpected charge on my card, I carefully read the terms and conditions of my subscription and found no references to the possibility that my new account number might be shared.

What does this mean for the average consumer?

Advertisement

Perhaps nothing much. For many, the benefit of having uninterrupted payments — and services — likely will outweigh any qualms about privacy or transparency.

If the possibility of updaters sharing your information unsettles you, however, start asking questions. Contact your credit card provider and any merchants with whom you have automated payments — ask about their policies and if you can opt out.

Be prepared to push, Schulz warned. Updaters are not yet mainstream enough for there to be clear conventions for dealing with consumer concerns and queries, so it may take effort to make your voice – and desires – known.

“You’re probably going to have to be pretty persistent,” he said.

Have a consumer question or complaint? Reach Sarah Shemkus at seshemkus@gmail.com.
Loading comments...
Real journalists. Real journalism. Subscribe to The Boston Globe today.