Feds expand probe into credit card collection practices
WASHINGTON — Federal regulators are widening a probe into whether the nation's biggest banks used flawed documents and incomplete records to collect on delinquent credit card debts, according to four people familiar with the investigation.
The scope of the inquiry is unclear, but those familiar with it say the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is expanding a probe that began in 2011 with allegations that JPMorgan Chase was using error-filled documents in lawsuits against debtors.
The regulatory agency is examining the process several banks use to verify consumers' outstanding debt before taking legal action, say people who were not authorized to speak about an ongoing investigation. An OCC spokesman declined to comment.
The concerns about credit card debt collection echo the wave of shoddy foreclosures that hit after the housing market collapsed. In those cases, as homeowners defaulted on their loans in droves, mortgage servicers were accused of falsifying records and “robo-signing” hundreds of documents without reviewing them.
Similarly, banks have filed hundreds of thousands of lawsuits against delinquent credit card holders in the wake of the financial crisis. As millions of Americans fell behind on payments, the charge-off rate for credit cards soared to $85 billion by the end of 2009, according to credit-card comparison site Cardhub.com.
Consumer attorneys began noting a number of collection cases built on shoddy records. Authorities in California, for instance, say JPMorgan flooded the courts with lawsuits against credit card holders based on flimsy evidence that cardholders were in default, according to a lawsuit filed this month by the state's attorney general. The complaint says the bank signed off on hundreds of legal documents “without any knowledge of the facts alleged in the document and without regard to the truth and accuracy of those facts.”
Regulators began examining the debt collection practices of JPMorgan in 2011 after a former bank employee, Linda Almonte, said nearly 23,000 delinquent accounts were riddled with inaccuracies, according to people with knowledge of the probe. Almonte, who sued JPMorgan for wrongful termination, claimed she was fired after warning her supervisors about the records. Officials at JPMorgan declined to comment on the whistle-blower lawsuit or the OCC probe.
The Almonte case, which was settled out of court, raised concerns among regulators that the same sorts of haphazard practices that plagued the foreclosure process may have crept into debt collection.
The OCC's investigation reflects the agency's increasing focus on fair lending and consumer protection coming out of the financial crisis. The agency, for instance, teamed with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in July to bring a $210 million action against Capital One for deceiving millions of customers into buying costly and unneeded credit card services.
“The OCC's interest in consumer protection issues⅜is a part of that overall focus in Washington,” said Christopher J. Willis, a partner at the law firm Ballard Spahr.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Wolf reverses Corbett, says deal between Highmark, UPMC doesn’t limit continuity of care to very ill
- AbbVie to buy leukemia drugmaker Pharmacyclics for $21 billion
- Stocks snap losing streak as ECB reveals stimulus start date
- Big banks’ levels of capital strong, Federal Reserve finds
- Cleveland district, including Pittsburgh, shows moderate economic growth in latest Beige Book report from Fed
- Americans see improved job market but a vulnerable economy, Pew poll finds
- Worker productivity falls faster than estimated; labor costs rise
- Mud serves as multipurpose tool in $100B shale industry
- Toyota Mirai to run on hydrogen fuel cells, widen green-vehicle divide
- Rocket firm hired to probe deadly air bags
- Whistle-blower incentives advance