Capital One is revisiting a policy that allows bank workers to make personal visits to customers and identify themselves in any manner they choose, after consumer advocates and others recently lambasted the tactics.
A spokesperson for Capital One said the terms have been in contracts for years and that the bank does not visit cardholders' homes unless it is repossessing a vehicle.
But, under the current agreement, bank representatives have the right to come to customers' homes and places of employment. Backlash from news of the contracts' language will likely make other card companies stay away from such agreements, according to several credit card experts.
"It is a bit over the top," said Bill Hardekopf, CEO of LowCards.com, which provides information on various credit cards. "They can try to get the money back but they can't come to my door and take my stereo away."
Hardekopf, calling the contract's wording "creepy," said he hasn't heard of such agreements and doubts that other companies will follow Capital One's lead.
Pam Girardo, a spokeswoman for Capital One, said the language has been in contracts for years.
"The agreement was recently sent to a group of customers as part of the ongoing HSBC integration," she said in an e-mail. "We are reviewing the language because we do not want to create any unnecessary insecurity among our customers and we apologize for the confusion."
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The company only sends debt collectors to homes and workplaces in connection with partnerships it has with several sports vehicle manufacturers, Girardo said. As a last resort, jet skis, snowmobiles and other vehicles might be repossessed, she said.
Girardo added the company wants its name displayed on caller ID but that "some local phone exchanges may display our number differently."
Eric Adamowsky, co-founder of CreditCardInsider.com, a consumer resource site, can understand where the company might be coming from. He doesn't agree with Capital One's methods but said that consumers have been getting aggressive about not paying their bills.
"Banks are basically answering the consumer's ability to dodge them," Adamowsky said. "It's a dangerous cat and mouse situation."
Some experts criticized the contracts and said Capital One should change its practices.
Norma Garcia is a senior attorney and manager of the financial-services program of Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of ConsumerReports. She said the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an independent federal agency, should look into Capital One's "trickery."
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"It's important that consumers understand the terms and conditions of their credit cards," Garcia said. "This is one that would raise the red flag for me."
Reading the fine print of credit card agreements can lead many to finding problematic language, said Joe Ridout, a spokesman for Consumer Action, a non-profit that works on consumer literacy and rights issues.
"Often you will find you forfeited some legal and constitutional rights," he said, explaining that you might have given up the right to a jury trial or that the bank might be able to raise fees even if you pay on time.
However, Ridout and several others were surprised to learn of Capital One's details.
"It is very troubling to think that your bank is thinking of ways to circumvent your call screening methods in order to talk to you when you don't want to talk to them," he said.
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The bank's policies don't make sense to Paul Gentile, president and CEO of New England Credit Union Services Corporation, a trade association that represents 200 credit unions.
"Based on my experience, I would assume they are doing this to save on administration costs," he said. "We have a very different policy. We are looking for ways to see how people want to interact with credit unions."
—By Yamiche Alcindor, USA Today