Which? Money conducted an undercover investigation to find out just how easy it is to get store cards from high street shops. Astonishingly, the indebted graduate who went undercover to perform the investigation was given a total of £2,750 worth of credit on cards from a number of shops.
21-year-old James Smith went undercover for Which? Money to pose as a shopper. He visited 20 major high-street shops and bought various items, pretending to be an ordinary shopper. At each of the stores, he asked if he could get discounts if he applied for a store card.
Even though he had earned less than £1,000 this year, he was granted credit from six of the twelve stores where he filled out credit card applications. The interest rates on the cards ranged from 18.9% to 28.9%.
In eight of these stores, they filled out the forms for him, requiring him only to sign at the bottom. He was not given a chance to read the fine print before signing, and only one store verbally informed him that his credit would be checked. Even though his credit was checked 12 times, he was still being granted credit at the end of the second day.
Although BHS only offered him a store card with a £100 credit limit in his own name, they also issued him with a store card with someone else’s name on it with a credit limit of £1,500!
According to Which? Money editor James Daley, no person in that position should be able to obtain £2,750 worth of credit in the short space of two days, nor should he be able to keep getting credit with so many applications made in such a short time period.
One can’t help wonder whether stores should be allowed to give credit at all, when their lending practices appear to be so blatantly irresponsible. Some regulation should be introduced by the Office of Fair trading to ensure that retailers lend responsibly.
Consumer champion Which? Money wants retailers to share important details and work with credit agencies to ensure that they have financial information about a customer before agreeing to grant credit. Sales staff should also be adequately trained and store managers should check to make sure that their salespeople are asking customers for permission to carry out credit checks.
At the end of the investigation, all of the merchandise was returned and the cards were cancelled.