Personal Finance: Financial lessons to learn from texting fountain woman

Michelle Singletary
Thursday, January 27, 2011; 11:26 AM

At first glance, the recent viral video of a woman falling into a mall fountain may not seem to yield any financial lessons.

In case you've haven't heard about this woman or seen the video, Cathy Cruz Marrero was texting while walking and ended up tumbling into a water fountain at the Berkshire Mall where she worked. The Pennsylvania resident's big splash -- caught by a security camera -- was uploaded to YouTube, where it has been viewed more than 3 million times.

Marrero, 49, said in a "Good Morning America" interview that she was embarrassed by the publicity and was upset that someone posted the video and that security didn't come to her aid. She is considering suing the mall.

"Our investigation into this matter is continuing," Marrero's attorney James M. Polyak said in an e-mail. "To date, we have not received so much as an apology from those responsible for the releasing the video. Why a security professional would release confidential video footage of such a humiliating event is a question that remains to be answered."

But Marrero's story just keeps getting more interesting. Turns out in October 2009 she was charged with stealing a coworker's credit cards and using them to purchase more than $4,000 of goods at a Target and Zales jewelry store, according to the Reading Eagle.

The Reading Eagle also reported that Marrero has been involved in several other theft cases. According to court documents, she has four retail theft convictions. In the most recent case, one of Marrero's co-workers says she allowed Marrero to use her Target credit card to make a small purchase but did not give her permission to make other purchases. To avoid detection, Marrero allegedly changed the billing address so she would get the credit card statements.

So what financial lessons can we learn thanks to the texting fountain woman?

-- Don't let anyone use your credit card. As Marrero's co-worker found out, it can cost you to be generous. The co-worker initially tried to make payments on the charges Marrero made in an effort to maintain her good credit history. It seems Marrero had promised to make payments, according to the local paper. When she didn't, the co-worker went to the police.

-- Don't abuse your position at work. In response to the incident, the company which provides security for the mall at which Marrero fell issued this statement: "The security officer responsible for sharing the video of this incident has been terminated and is no longer with company. U.S. Security Associates does not condone this type of behavior and will work closely with the property owners to ensure processes are put in place to prevent it from happening in the future."

On the video, you can hear several people laughing in the background.

"So there she goes, and boom," a guy says after showing another angle of Marrero falling into the fountain.

I'm sure the security officer who got fired thought he was doing a harmless and humorous thing by posting the video. But giving others a chuckle couldn't have been worth his job in an economy where jobs are hard to come by.

-- Don't try to profit from a lawsuit from your unwise actions. Marrero has said in interviews she feels her privacy has been invaded. But it was Marrero who told the media she was the texting fountain woman in the YouTube video. It was absolutely wrong for the security officer to post that video. But she wouldn't have garnered so much attention if she hadn't come forward of her own volition.

Let's Talk!

I would love to hear your thoughts on the financial lessons from the texting fountain woman.

Join me today at noon ET for my live online chat. Of course, I'll also be answering your basic financial questions. Be sure to send your questions in early or read the archives later.

Just before the noon chat, at 11:45 a.m., check out my live video chat. I'll be sharing another Debt Defeater success story.

The Real Deal On Interest Rates

I hope you caught the very interesting article in the Post's Outlook section about five myths about interest rates. I love this regular feature, which has busted myths about a number of topics from the federal deficit to bullying to Sarah Palin.

So is it true that the mortgage interest deduction is necessary to support the housing market and the economy? You'll have to read to find out.

And here's this week's Color of Money Question: "Would you have bought a less expensive house or delayed buying your home if there weren't a deduction for your mortgage interest?" Send you responses to

Put "The Real Deal on Interest Rates" in the subject line and be sure to include your full name, city and state.

Big Banks Are Watching

The Post's Ylan Q. Mui recently reported on the growing number of banks that are tracking consumers' debit card purchases and using that information to allow other firms to tailor advertising to them.

So last week's Color of Money question was, "Do you mind if your bank is using your debit card purchases to push products?"

Here's what some of you had to say:

"I am absolutely appalled to think that McDonald's or any other business has a connection to my account that I did not initiate," says Roberta Barr of Reisterstown, Md. "Hopefully this is not something that credit unions will adopt."

Davis Scott of Sugar Land, Tex. doesn't have a problem with the banks using his purchase history to deliver targeted ads.

"Better that they make money that way than charger higher fees," Scott wrote. "Besides, it's no worse than Google making me offers when I search, or for that matter, The Washington Post offering me Hot Penny Stocks when I read your personal finance emails."

Lorna Gilkey of Alexandria, Va. doesn't like the trend. She wrote: "There has to be privacy somewhere. . . By selling my spending habits, the bank becomes unsafe and essentially is opening the door for predatory scam artists to rob me."

Janice Papadam of Alexandria, Va. says it depends on the product that's being pushed.

"I don't mind being sent a coupon or getting a discount for things I regularly buy, however I've noticed that when I'm late on a bill, any time I swipe my card they know just when to call. I find that a bit interesting and uncomfortable."

Upcoming Events

Join me next month for an informative panel discussion, "Behind the Headlines: A Discussion on Race and the Recession in Metro Washington." The free forum will take place on Wed. Feb. 23 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at The Rennie Forum, Prince George's Community College, 301 Largo Rd., Upper Marlboro, Md.

The panel will cover the recession's impact on local black families and will look at how economic policies in Washington have affected African Americans. The forum will also look at the first of three groundbreaking public opinion polls on issues facing the black community, conducted by The Washington Post, the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University.

I'll be moderating what I'm sure will be a dynamic discussion. The panelists will include Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus; Michael A. Fletcher, a Washington Post national economics reporter; Jeff Johnson, a Black Entertainment Television journalist and motivational speaker; Dr. Julianne Malveaux, a noted economist and educator; Cecilia Rouse, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers; and the Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network.

Space is going to fill up quickly, so RSVP and or submit a question for the panel by sending an e-mail to

Tia Lewis contributed to this e-letter.

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