Capital One Smacked With Huge Credit Card Fine (Update 2)

TheStreet.com

Updated with Capital One's statement, market close information, and comment from Sterne Agee analyst Henry Coffey.

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Wednesday announced its first regulatory enforcement action, ordering a Capital One COF subsidiary to refund $140 million to two million credit card customers and pay an additional fine of $25 million.

The CFPB was created under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in July 2010. The Bureau said that its action against Capital One Bank (USA) NA resulted from an "examination that identified deceptive marketing tactics used by Capital One's vendors to pressure or mislead consumers into paying for "add-on products" such as payment protection and credit monitoring when they activated their credit cards."

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which regulates Capital One Bank (USA) NA, assessed a $35 million civil penalty against the bank.

Capital One said in a statement that the company's "third party vendors did not always adhere to company sales scripts and sales policies for Payment Protection and Credit Monitoring products, and the bank did not adequately monitor their activities," adding that "the agreement with the OCC also addresses certain billing practices relating to Credit Monitoring products administered by third party vendors. "

Ryan Schneider, the president of Capital One's card business said "we apologize to those customers who were impacted and we are committed to making it right," and that "we are accountable for the actions that vendors take on our behalf,"adding that "these marketing calls were inconsistent with the explicit instructions we provided to agents for how these products should be sold."

The company also moved up its second-quarter earnings announcement by a day, to Wednesday, after the market close.

Capital One's shares pulled back 2% to close at $54.89.

CFPB director Richard Cordray said that the affected credit card customers "were pressured or misled into buying credit card products they didn't understand, didn't want, or in some cases, couldn't even use."

The Bureau said that the payment protection products being sold allowed "consumers to request that the bank cancel up to 12 months of minimum payments - roughly one percent of their credit card balance - if they encounter certain life events like unemployment and temporary disability," with "debt forgiveness in the event of death or permanent disability." The Bureau also said that the credit monitoring services include "identity-theft protection, access to "credit education specialists," and, in some cases, daily monitoring and notification.

The CFPB said that "high-pressure tactics" used to sell the add-on services included telling customers that the services could improve their credit scores, not telling customers that the additional services were optional, misleading customers about eligibility for credit protection, misinforming customers about the cost of the services, and enrolling customers for additional services without consent.

The Bureau said that Capital One had "ceased all marketing of these products, and will not resume doing so until Capital One submits a compliance plan, acceptable to the Bureau, which helps ensure these unlawful acts do not occur in the future."

The bank will "pay approximately $140 million to all of the estimated two million consumers who either initially enrolled in a product on or after August 1, 2010, or who tried to cancel a product on or after August 1, 2010, but were persuaded to keep the product after speaking with a call center representative." In addition, Capital One will be refunds for any finance or over-the-limit charges resulting from the add-on services. In addition, the Bureau said that Capital One will pay credit protection claims "denied based on ineligibility at enrollment."Sterne Agee analyst Henry Coffey said that "there are many possible reasons" for Capital One to move up its announcement of second-quarter results, "including something as innocuous as a debt deal and changes in management's schedules, or this could be foreshadowing the sale by ING of its shares in COF."ING Groep ING became Capital One's largest shareholder, as part of the company's deal to sell its U.S. banking subsidiary ING Direct to Capital One during the first quarter.In regard to the settlement with the CFPB and the OCC, Coffey said "this is an old issue and we doubt that the modest sell-off in COF's shares today hasanything to do with this news."

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-- Written by Philip van Doorn in Jupiter, Fla.

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