Today the CFPB announced that they have ordered American Express to pay $85 million in restitution to customers who were harmed by illegal credit card practices along with a $27.5 million dollar civil penalty.
Amex was very naughty, it seems. According to the CFPB, these were a few of their sins:
- Deceived consumers who signed up for the American Express “Blue Sky” credit card program: Consumers were sometimes led to believe they would receive $300 in addition to bonus points if they signed up for this American Express Centurion Bank program. But consumers who met the qualifications did not receive the $300. This violates federal laws prohibiting deceptive practices.
- Charged unlawful late fees: American Express Centurion Bank and American Express Bank, FSB billed late fees on certain cards based on a percentage of the debt in violation of the Credit CARD Act.
- Unlawfully discriminated against new account applicants on the basis of age: American Express Centurion Bank used a credit scoring system that treated charge card applicants differently on the basis of age. For a period of time, the bank did not fully implement the system for applicants over the age of 35. This violated the Equal Credit Opportunity Act because it requires credit scoring systems that take age into account to be properly designed and implemented.
- Failed to report consumer disputes to consumer reporting agencies: American Express Centurion Bank and American Express Bank, FSB failed to report the existence of certain customer disputes to credit bureaus, which is a violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
- Misled consumers about debt collection: All three of the American Express subsidiaries deceived consumers into believing there were certain benefits to paying off old debt. Consumers were wrongly told that if they paid off the old debt, the payment would be reported to credit bureaus and could improve their credit scores. In fact, American Express was not reporting the payments and the debts were so old that even if they had tried to report them, many of the payments would not have appeared on these consumers’ credit reports or affected their credit scores. American Express also told some consumers that a portion of their debt would be waived or forgiven if they accepted certain settlement offers. But for customers who applied for a new American Express card, the company was not really forgiving or waiving the debt.
To remedy this, Amex will pay customers the $300 they never received as a credit to their account, late fees charged improperly will be refunded, and remedies to those customers misled into thinking their debt would be forgiven will be put in place.
To me, what is most remarkable about this is the speed with which it has come about since it was transferred to the CFPB last year. Instead of it dragging on and on and lingering while it was litigated in some kind of class action lawsuit, the CFPB was able to get a settlement that fully restores people's accounts with a check or a credit, and agreement that future credit activities will be audited and monitored by the CFPB.
A round of applause to the CFPB and hopes for more monitoring of credit card companies. Of all the different kinds of consumer credit, credit card issuers get away with more and manage to grab more in fees and unwarranted, often usury, charges than any other financial "institution." They should start with Capital One, since they seem to be the ones most often complained against.
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