July 18, 2012 / 2:26 PM / 5 years ago

Consumer agency fines Capital One for card marketing

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Capital One Financial agreed to pay $210 million to resolve charges by banking regulators that its call-center representatives misled consumers into paying for extra credit card products.

Capital One Financial Corp building is seen in McLean, Virginia, late July 21, 2010. REUTERS/Hyungwon Kang

The enforcement action, announced on Wednesday, is the first by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which said it unearthed the activities through an examination of the bank.

The CFPB was created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law and is nearing its one-year anniversary.

The government said $150 million of the sanctions will go to reimburse affected customers, while the remaining penalty will be split between the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which fined the bank $35 million, and the CFPB, which will collect $25 million.

“We are putting companies on notice that these deceptive practices are against the law and will not be tolerated,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray.

The regulators alleged that employees at call centers used by Capital One pressured and misled consumers into paying for “add-on products” such as payment protection and credit monitoring when they activated their credit cards.

In a briefing with reporters, Cordray said he anticipated actions against other banks over similar tactics but declined to name any targets.

“We know these deceptive tactics are not unique to a single institution ... we expect announcements about other institutions as our ongoing work continues to unfold,” Cordray said.

In a statement, the president of Capital One’s credit card business, Ryan Schneider, apologized to customers who were affected and said the bank is committed to “making it right.”

The bank neither admitted nor denied the government’s findings in reaching the settlement.

Late Wednesday the bank also reported its quarterly net income had plunged 90 percent on a large provision for anticipated credit losses.

MERGER APPROVED

The charges come just months after Capital One battled concerns about its record on consumer issues to win approval from the Federal Reserve to buy ING Group NV’s U.S. online banking unit.

That approval came in February after a series of hearings, in which civic groups accused the bank of improper lending practices.

On Wednesday the group that led the charge against the merger, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, said it felt vindicated by the enforcement action.

“Though the merger was approved, it is clear that the scrutiny brought to bear from NCRC’s objections has born results for consumers,” said the group’s president, John Taylor.

VEERING OFF SCRIPT

The CFPB said employees at call centers used by Capital One misled customers by saying these add-on products would improve their credit scores or falsely telling them that the products were free.

Capital One blamed the problem on vendors who did not adhere to the company’s sales scripts and said the bank did not adequately monitor their activities.

“We are accountable for the actions that vendors take on our behalf,” Capital One’s Schneider said. “These marketing calls were inconsistent with the explicit instructions we provided to agents for how these products should be sold.”

In connection with the settlement, the bank also agreed to stop marketing the extra products until it implements a new plan -- which the CFPB will first have to approve -- to ensure its call centers do not use the deceptive tactics in the future.

The bank also agreed to refund affected customers by directly crediting their accounts, and sending checks to those who are no longer Capital one customers.

An independent auditor will assess the bank’s compliance with the terms of the agreement, the CFPB said.

McLean, Virginia-based Capital One gets over half of its revenue from credit cards and acquired access to about $80 billion in deposits and 7 million new customers from ING.

Editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Jeffrey Benkoe, Steve Orlofsky and Tim Dobbyn

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