How A Credit Card Company Can Predict Your Divorce

Man looks over woman's shoulder using credit card
Love, Self

Will your marriage last? Visa and MasterCard may have the answer.

Remember when Visa promised it was "everywhere you want to be"? Now the credit card giant may be heading everywhere you don't want it to be -- like your love life, your marriage and even (if it's come to this) your divorce.

Visa (and, potentially, its competitors) just may be able to predict whether you and your mate are likely to call it quits based on your buying and credit history. Missed payments are a red flag that something may be, excuse the pun, amiss.

Why should they care, you wonder? Because they want to know how to get you to keep buying stuff, even if your life takes a sudden U-turn.

"Credit card companies don't really care about divorce in and of itself," Yale University law professor Ian Ayres, the author of "Super Crunchers," tells The Daily Beast. "They care whether you're going to pay your card off."

in his book, Ayres writes about what he dubs the rise of the "number-crunching revolution" orchestrated by a growing pool of statistical wizards he calls "Super Crunchers." Among the many examples he uses is that of Visa tracking customers' marital statuses. My Daily: Downsizing: How This Diva Moved From a House to a Trailer

"Business and government professionals are relying more and more on government databases to guide their decisions," he writes. "Decision makers in and outside of business are using statistical analysis in ways you'd never imagine to drive all kinds of choices."

But that doesn't mean credit firms are willing to 'fess up to the practice of mining for data to learn about cardholders' relationship woes and other details of their personal lives. The strategy is under the radar, to put it mildly. Way under.

"Visa does not track or monitor cardholder marital status, nor does it offer any service or product that predicts a potential divorce," the company said in a statement after The Daily Beast item ran this week. "These claims are false and any media outlets or authors citing that Visa has such capabilities are inaccurate and wrong." My Daily: I Turned to Yoga When I Was Consumed by Grief

It's already widely known that companies -- especially those with a heavy reliance on risk analysis -- go to great lengths to track people's online, spending and lifestyle behaviors in order to custom-market to them.

Sometimes referred to as "predictive modeling," credit card companies have used the tactic to find out, for instance, whether a customer has moved recently -- which in turn could help its home- and real-estate partners in trying to generate new business for themselves.

"There's a whole market out there that has tried to predict whether someone has just moved, and to be first with offers," Bob Grossman, director of the Laboratory for Advanced Computing at the University of Illinois at Chicago, tells the Beast. "Those kinds of things tend to be pretty high value."

It isn't just credit firms that dig for personal dirt on clients, however. The matchmaking site eHarmony does it. Google does it. The federal government, Walmart, Harrah's Hotels and Casinos ... the list, truth be told, is long. Some might say infinitely so.

Sure, it could be a good thing that your credit card company and other businesses you patronize are getting to know you better these days. There's something comforting about sales pitches being tailored just for you, isn't there? But the trend has also sparked much controversy about the invasion of privacy and consumer rights.

Ultimately, it just means that you have to be an even savvier customer -- whether your marriage is in trouble or not.

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This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission from the author.