February 21, 2014
Credit Card Company Wants To Get Close Up And Personal
The devil is always in the details. We all know we should read the small print and grub out those little get-out clauses and deliberately obtuse finer points but, really, who has the time in their busy lives to do all that? After all, if you want to use the product or service, you have to accept the terms and conditions. But sometimes, deep in the details, there is a weird clause that only comes to light when someone actually bothers to read it.
One man who did exactly that is Rick Rofman of Van Nuys, when, as reported in the LA Times recently, he received an update to the terms and conditions on his Capital One Card contract. It may have been just a quiet day for Rick but he was diligent enough to dig down into to the fine print and he did not like what he saw there. For, according to Capital One’s contract terms, the company is claiming bizarre visitation rights. The offending clause read “we may contact you in any manner we choose,” including phone calls, texts, emails, fax, or a “personal visit.” So, it seems Capital One is claiming the right to turn up on your doorstep any time they choose and, to add to the Big Brother style threat, the visit can be “at your home and at your place of employment.” If we take this at face value, it appears there is nothing we can do to prevent a credit card company stalking us at home and work. Unlike the police, or even the Internal Revenue Service, they don’t need a warrant to turn up any time any place.
The Times asked Daniel E. Kann, a specialist in illegal search cases, about the rights and wrongs of the position Capital One has taken and whether they are in breach of the 4th Amendment, which protects US citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures. Apparently not, according to Kann, who said the amendment was primarily aimed at law enforcement agencies and that credit card companies, for example, could claim visitation rights without court orders. You might, however, have recourse to action against them under the laws against harassment and stalking.
In a further twist, the Capital One contract update contained the following: “we may modify or suppress caller ID and similar services and identify ourselves on these services in any manner we choose.” In other words, they might decide to “spoof” you, to trick you into picking up a call or other communication by pretending to be someone else and it’s perfectly legal if, in law, it is “non-harmful” spoofing, which mostly means not for fraudulent purposes.
Capital One told the Times that it was not their policy to visit people at home or work except in rare circumstances; apparently they have repossession agreements with some high value sports vehicle manufacturers but, they claim, only send in the repo men after appropriate warnings.
After the LA Times article, Capital One decided it would reconsider the wording in its contracts as it did “not want to create any unnecessary insecurity among our customers”. Sorry guys, it doesn’t sound like belated concern for customer insecurity to me; sounds more like “the rabbit’s out of the hat and won’t go back in – this could hit us on the bottom line and that’s right where it hurts most – in the big bonus bucket.”
For me, the real issue is about what we expect, or used to expect, from banks and financial institutions, which is what they rightly demand from us; integrity and openness, as well as fair play. Using threatening clauses buried deep in the undergrowth and reserving the right to spoof the customer were a long way from those principles. So, let’s thank Rick Rofman for his diligence and hope there are more out there like him to dig up the dirt.
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