Out of 372 types of businesses, credit card issuers generated the most consumer inquiries at local Better Business Bureaus last year, according to a national survey.

In its 1993 Annual Inquiry and Complaint Summary, the Council of Better Business Bureaus Inc., an umbrella organization for more than 180 chapters, reports that local bureaus received 213,910 queries about credit card companies, a 34% increase over 1992 activity.

However, the number of complaints about card companies actually decreased.

The 1992 survey ranked credit card companies third in inquiries, a jump from two years earlier, when card issuers ranked 11th. The increase can be attributed to the increase in national direct mail solicitations, said Holly Cherico, a spokeswoman for the Arlington, Va.-based council.

As more bank card issuers penetrate the national market, she said, consumers who receive a sales pitch from a bank that does not have a branch presence in their state are calling a Better Business Bureau to find out if the bank is legitimate.

For example, the bureau of central Virginia reported that it receives the most inquiries from consumers about Signet Banking Corp., Richmond. The bureau handled 72 calls about Signet Bank in 1990, but 7,146 last year.

'Local People Know'

The majority of the calls come from people living outside of Virginia, said Tom Gallagher, president of the Better Business Bureau of Central Virginia, who added, "Local people know that Signet is a real bank."

A spokeswoman for Signet Bank said, "The number and the increase is a direct result of the increase in the growth of our business, which exploded in 1993." Signet's outstanding credit card receivables grew from $2.2 billion at yearned 1992 to $5.1 billion at yearned 1993, and currently stand at more than $6 billion.

Generally, consumers request a bureau's reliability report on the bank, which includes the number of complaints filed, how long it has been in business, and a list of the principal executives.

Crackdown on Deception

The 1993 survey also showed that the number of complaints has declined from previous years, from 2,120 in 1990 to 1,420 in 1993.

The decrease, in part, is a result of the credit card industry's crackdown on the deceptive marketing practices of companies which offer "gold cards" that can only be used to purchase items in a catalog, Ms. Cherico said.

She said the decrease may also be a sign that credit card issuers are improving the way they handle their customer's complaints.

Generally, when a consumer contacts a bureau with a grievance, it means that the bank couldnt resolve the problem.

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