Did Capital One Target Deployed Soldiers for Foreclosure?

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Capital One  bank
Until recently, the U.S. Army had a recruiting slogan: "Army of One." The Obama administration is now concerned that slogan may have been a bit too accurate, and wants to know whether, when American men and women shipped out to serve their country overseas, anyone was "watching their six" back home.

Case in point: Last week, the Department of Justice wrapped up an investigation of Capital One (COF), in which it accused the bank of violating the rules of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act -- specifically, rules that forbid:

  • Charging more than 6% interest on loans and credit card debt incurred prior to a servicemember's being called up for active duty, during the period of service.
  • Foreclosing on a servicemember's home for missing a mortgage payment.

Capital One cooperated with the investigation, ultimately concluding that it was in the wrong, and agreeing to pay $7 million to compensate servicemembers for motor vehicles and homes it foreclosed upon while they were overseas.

At a minimum, servicemembers who lost their homes to Capital One will receive $125,000 each in compensation, while those who had cars repossessed will get at least $10,000. The bank further agreed to pay $5 million more to cover anyone for whom it failed to reduce interest rates on credit card debt as required by law.

And then ... a miracle happened.

Banker With a Heart of Gold

Going one step further than what its deal with the government required, Capital One announced it is lowering the interest rate on servicemembers' card debt to 4%, and holding it there for as long as a year after returning from their tours overseas.

That hardly sounds like the kind of action you'd expect a guilty bank to take. Conspiracy theorists will surely disagree -- pointing to similar settlements that DOJ has inked with Bank of America (BAC), which in November, agreed to a $20 million-plus settlement for offenses similar to what Capital One was accused of, and with JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Wells Fargo (WFC), Citigroup (C), and Ally Financial, which in February set up a similar compensation fund at government request -- in the amount of $25 million.

Attorney General Eric Holder is spinning all this as a "fight for our service members, [using] every available tool, resource and authority to hold accountable those who engage in discriminatory practices targeting those who serve."

But if you look at the numbers, they actually tell a different tale.

Tempest in a Teapot?

Consider: Over the past decade, some 2 million American servicemen and women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. How many of them have been foreclosed upon, though?

  • In the November Bank of America settlement, DOJ alleged that "approximately 160 servicemembers ... were illegally foreclosed on between 2006 and the middle of 2009." The investigation is "ongoing," but that's still a slow start.
  • The February settlement with JPMorgan, Wells, Citi and Ally, 25% larger than the settlement reached with Bank of America, suggests perhaps 200 persons were affected by SCRA violations there.
  • As for Capital One, the bank says its settlement with the DOJ relates "predominantly" to card customers who were charged too-high interest rates. Improper foreclosures on servicemembers' homes, says the bank, totalled precisely four.

That brings the total count of victims to 364. That's 364out of 2 million servicemembers who cycled through foreign theaters over the past 10 years, resulting in a foreclosure rate of approximately 0.02% (as in, fewer than two incorrect applications of SCRA out of every 10,000 servicemembers).


The Upshot

As conspiracies go -- if this is one -- then it has to be one of the least widespread cases of consumer fraud in recent memory. Tally up the payrolls at all these banks, and you're talking easily 1.1 million employees. Collectively, these folks probably make more than 364 paperwork errors on a typical Monday, before the coffee pot gets put on.

In short, while we should all cheer the fact that the government is doing its job and making sure servicemembers get a fair shake from the nation's bankers, it really does look like this was already happening before DOJ ever got involved. Over a multiyear timespan, 364 errors across a population of 2 million banking customers -- that's not a scandal. It's a rounding error.



Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith holds no position in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Citigroup, Bank of America, and JPMorgan Chase. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Wells Fargo. Motley Fool newsletter services formerly recommended JPMorgan Chase.


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60 Comments

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scificarolinaguy

If you are one of the veterans' families who were wronged by these institutions, it is more than a statistical error or anomaly. When one veteran is foreclosed upon or penalized for their service... IT IS WRONG!

August 05 2012 at 4:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
susan

They should pass a bill that banks can no longer screw over its customers or face no FDIC ......

August 05 2012 at 6:40 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Wendy

gimme gimme gimme. so few care about each other

August 05 2012 at 6:33 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
rebecca jean

i dont recognize this country any more...the stuff that goes on is just disgraceful...we've never been this kind of people until..........................now lets solve that problem in november

August 05 2012 at 6:21 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rebecca jean's comment
Wendy

really??? I think it goes a lot farther back than "that" What rock have you been living under?!

August 05 2012 at 6:33 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
lifehub

As long as this government doles out petty punishments to these banks, this course of action will continue to occur against our military service men and women as well as ordinary and unsuspecting consumers. There are no deterants in place to keep banks from screwing the public.

August 05 2012 at 5:14 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
crazybobmt

that picture of romney expresses to me the slime that had control of induetry AND banking..more a smirk do americans really need this a --hole

August 05 2012 at 3:09 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to crazybobmt's comment
Tammie

you are an idiot

August 05 2012 at 4:37 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Tammie's comment
lifehub

Agree,tammie.

August 05 2012 at 5:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down
rebecca jean

romneys an ahole.....really ....and obama is pristine....get real poster....YOURE THE PROBLEM

August 05 2012 at 6:22 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
calderasf

Wow this so called writer sure is looking for something he can't find. Gov't is cracking down on these slimy banks and reversing their back behavior banks have become cold heartless greedy companies that will do anything illegal if it makes a dime for them.

August 05 2012 at 2:42 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to calderasf's comment
flip33732

They just want to be the next Huff Po . Write a headline that grabs the readers attention and then write some b.s. story to tie into the headline.

August 05 2012 at 4:27 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
celebrityl

Government cracking down with an election coming up? What a coincidence....................

August 05 2012 at 5:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Don Mulligan

Boycott them. This is a disgrace to our miltary fighting for us. Bankers are just too money hungry.

August 05 2012 at 2:37 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
woodmite8

364 more than there should have been, Every soldier risking thier life in combat should never take fire from the back ....That the Motley Fool son of a bitch seems to minimize this kinda explains why it happened in the first place. I wonder if the writer of this piece of crap had his life on the line and the guy with his six had just got the news his family was on the street and distracted by homeland predation would like to experiance the outcome?

August 05 2012 at 2:17 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
jep121212

but they have cool commercials!! "We didnt start the Fire"

August 05 2012 at 1:05 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply