Credit used to be a dirty word in Europe, but not anymore! Brits are piling on credit card debt at a record pace thanks to the influx of U.S.-based issuers into the UK market. London-based Datamonitor reported last week that UK credit card debt grew 22% annually between 1996 and 2000. Total UK credit card loans grew from GBP18.7 billion in 1996 to GBP41.1 billion in 2000. Last year, more than 121 million credit, charge and debit cards were in-force generating charge volume of GBP280 billion. Approximately 50 million of the total cards are credit cards. By 2005, the number of credit and charge cards in issue in the UK will almost double to 92.7 million. International card monitor, RAM Research Group, reports the number of Eurocard-MasterCard credit/charge cards rose 15% to reach 68.8 million throughout Europe. RAM also reports that card charge volume in Europe is now growing 15% annually. Datamonitor says gold and premium cards have grown at almost five times the rate of other credit and charge card products thanks to entrance of the US mono-lines. While card usage is surging in the UK, fraud is growing faster. During the five period analyzed, fraud losses grew 22.8% annually while card volume grew 14.3% annually. Losses peaked in 1999, hitting GBP189.4m. Datamonitor notes that the National Association of Citizen’s Advice Bureaux and the Office of Fair Trading are now voicing concerned about credit card debt.