The debt-collection business has been maligned again {"It's Not So Easy Getting Credit Where Credit Is Due," Style Plus, May 31}.

Nancy L. Ross's story about being dunned for bills that were not hers began with a "computer glitch" at American Express. Based on incorrect data from that glitch, American Express sent a derogatory report on her to TRW, a credit-rating bureau, and to a collection agency, which proceeded to do its job.

With the information acquired from American Express -- Social Security number, birth date and phone numbers, all legitimately belonging to Ross -- it is not hard to believe that the collector had some difficulty in lending credence to her story of innocence. If a collection agency were to believe every tale of "It's not my bill," or the old favorite, "The check's in the mail," it would be out of business in a week, and its clients would suffer losses that would drive up costs for responsible consumers.

To the collection agency's credit, it did call the Nancy L. Ross in Atlanta, determined an error had been made and discontinued collection activities. That was more than American Express and TRW did. Further, Ross apparently suffered no inconvenience other than several phone calls from the agency. However, the unintentional error by American Express and propagated by TRW created what could have caused permanent damage to her financial record.

So why did the cartoon with the article show the "Pound O'Flesh Collection Agency"? A cartoon showing Karl Malden entering misinformation into American Express computers would have been more apt. Better yet, the rendering of a person who lost his business due to an erroneous credit report walking down bankruptcy's cruel path. -- John C. Smith The writer is senior vice president of Nationwide Credit Corp.