Capitol One Bank wins the race for first to be held accountable by the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Yesterday, the CFPB announced its first public enforcement action, fining Capitol One $210 million for targeting credit card holders who are unemployed or have low credit scores with deceptive marketing.
The bureau found that call center agents hired by Capitol One told its most cash-strapped borrowers that a list of add-on products, such as payment protection and credit monitoring, were mandatory or free. They were neither. CFPB Director Richard Cordray had strong words to go with the fine: “We are putting companies on notice that these deceptive practices are against the law and will not be tolerated.”
Capitol One blamed its third-party vendor, claiming it was shocked—shocked!—such things would go on. It’s worth noting that consumer watchdogs have long charged that Capitol One steers low-income borrowers into subprime products—there just wasn’t a regulatory agency that cared enough to do something about it until the CFPB was created. It’s also worth noting that this kind of steering has been discovered repeatedly in the financial sector. It’s precisely why black and Latino borrowers were so disproportionately sold subprime home loans, and why last week Wells Fargo agreed to a $175 million settlement with the Justice Department for race-based profiteering.