Seems like credit-card companies are a bit like proverbial old dogs. They can't learn new tricks, so they just keep trying old ones.
What else to conclude from today's enforcement by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau - arriving on the agency's fourth anniversary? The CFPB ordered Citibank and subsidiaries to pay back about $700 million in ill-gotten gains from the deceptive marketing, billing, and administration of credit-card add-on services, plus about $35 million in penalties. In addition to profiting from misleading services such as "debt protection" and "credit monitoring," a Ctibank subsidiary also "deceptively charged expedited payment fees to nearly 1.8 million consumer accounts during collection calls," the agency says. All told, about 8.8 million consumers' accounts were affected.
You can see the CFPB's announcement here, including information on the refunds (and warnings about refund-related scams, since bad guys' imaginations apparently know no bounds). This is the 10th credit-card settlement the agency has reached, and the second-largest in restitution - just short of the $727 million in refunds it obtained for Bank of America credit-card customers.
The history here is worth recalling. Along with mortgage abuses, tricks and traps created by the credit-card industry to squeeze extra revenue from consumers were among the main reasons the country - or at least the Democratic Party - was ready in 2010 to create a new consumer agency as part of the Dodd-Frank financial reforms. Even some Democrats expected to horse-trade the CFPB away in negotiations with Wall Street and its allies. But President Obama held firm, bolstered by the woman who first proposed the CFPB concept: the force of nature named Elizabeth Warren, then a bankruptcy-scholar-turned-recovery-monitor and now a U.S. senator.
The products and services for which consumers can get refunds come with a bewlidering array of names, such as Privacy Guard, DirectAlert, IdentityMonitor, Citi Credit Monitoring Service, AccountCare, Balance Protector, Credit Protection, Credit Protector, and Payment Safeguard. It may be that some consumers benefited occasionallly from these products, but if the names sound familiar, there's a good reason. Some are among the "mystery charges" that have prompted years of complaints and investigations. Consumers should remember that there are almost always better ways to protect their interests than by paying a recurring monthly fee - for instance, by asking for an inexpensive "security freeze" or "credit freeze" on your files at the three main credit-reporting agencies.