Credit-protection trickery at Bank of America

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau continues to show its worth in cold, hard cash coming back to consumers victimized directly by financial trickery.  While that may pale beside the magnitude of damage caused indirectly by such trickery - say, the Great Recession and massive, long-term unemployment triggered by a trickery-fueled housing bubble - it's real money. And an enforcement announced today against Bank of America adds $727 million to the toll: about $250 per affected customer.

The CFPB says nearly 3 million consumers will received refunds, or have already gotten them. About 1.4 million  were affected by the megabank's deceptive marketing of add-on products with names like "Privacy Guard" and "Privacy Assist," the agency says in a blog post explaining the order. About 1.9 million customers were charged for credit-monitoring and credit-reporting services they weren't actually receiving.  

Bank of America said today that it had stopped all the marketing in question -  including for products "marketed and billed by its vendors" - by August 2012.

“We have consistently warned companies about illegal practices related to credit card add-on products,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a statement announcing the action, which also requires Bank of America to pay a $20 million penalty.

If the name Privacy Guard sounds familiar, one reason may be that it was part of the scheme described in the CFPB's first public enforcement action, in July 2012, in which Capital One was required to pay $150 million in restitution and a total of $60 million in fines in a joint action by the CFPB and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. In five such enforcements, Cordray says, the CFPB has so far ordered about $1.5 billion in refunds for these credit-card add-ons.

How much will Bank of America customers get back? Though the order averages to about $250 apiece, the CFPB says each refund depends on what an account-holder paid, and whether they were refused benefits they believed they were owed.

"Eligible consumers who were enrolled in a 'credit protection' product for less than a year, who made a request for benefits that was denied or closed, or who, complained to the CFPB or to Bank of America stating that they did not authorize enrollment in the product, will receive a refund of all fees charged from October 1, 2010 through March 31, 2013." the CFPB says. "Eligible consumers who were enrolled in a 'credit protection' product for a year or more and who do not fall within any of the groups described above will receive a refund of 300 days of fees charged from October 1, 2010 through March 31, 2013."

Bank of America provided slightly different numbers, saying it would pay a total of $738 million in restitution and a total of $45 million in fines to the CFPB and the OCC.

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