First Data Corp. said it has a new trick up its sleeve to give its clients an edge in the credit card business.

The third-party processing Goliath is promoting its USA Value Exchange, a program designed to make statement stuffers more valuable to consumers by promoting targeted offers, said Mary Dobbs, senior vice president of Hackensack, N.J.-based First Data Corp.

Bank card issuers and banks that sign up merchants to accept credit cards, known as acquirers, can join the program, which First Data describes as a limited partnership. The launch is set for the second quarter.

Here's how the program works: Issuers contribute cardholder demographic information to a central data base managed by First Data. Acquirers offer the service to their merchants. Retailers then pitch discounts to consumers based on their card usage. The merchant will pay a fee for the service and will pay for the discounts.

Consumers will be notified about the program through their monthly card statements. They are given the chance to opt out.

If the consumer doesn't opt out, her monthly statement may contain promotional offers from retailers she has visited in the past, or manufacturers of products she has previously purchased.

To get the deal, she presents her credit card at the specified retail location. The full price of the item would be charged to the card at the point of sale. The discount appears on her next statement. There are no coupons or tickets to remember, Ms. Dobbs said.

First Data is not a partner, but gets a membership fee from banks for managing the data base. To qualify for membership, the institution must be either an issuer or merchant acquirer and a client of First Data.

Initial members include Advanta Corp., Banc One POS Services Corp., Barnett Card Services Corp., Old Kent Bank, First of America Bank, Norwest Card Services, Chevy Chase Savings Bank, USAA Federal Savings Bank, and Wells Fargo Bank.

Ms. Dobbs said consumer privacy is highly respected. Though demographic information would be collected, the consumer's identity would not be available to marketers, she said. Only the issuing bank would be able to match spending behavior with the consumer to make special offers.

Even so, First Data does the statement rendering and so ultimately has all consumer information in its computers.

Edward Mierzwinski, consumer program director at United States Public Interest Research Group, a Washington D.C.-based group affiliated with Ralph Nader, said, "Consumer privacy is never high on the agenda of any business organization."

Ruth Susswein, executive director of Bankcard Holders of America, a Herndon, Va.-based consumer group, was less suspicious. She said the program "might be workable" if consumers can opt out of the program.

Mr. Mierzwinski said opting in offered far greater protection, and he cast aspersions on First Data's motives.

"I don't know of any law that would prohibit them from selling information about single consumers without their permission," he said. "That scares me. We need to strengthen the laws to prevent that."

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