Credit card users are furious with Capital One Financial Corp. (NYSE:COF) over an invasive clause that allows it to make “personal visits” to customers, but the condition is by no means new, nor is it unique to Capital One.
On Monday, the Los Angeles Times ran an article that quoted a Capital One customer who received a new contract update stating that the bank “may contact you in any manner we choose.” Such methods of contact, as the story explained, included emails, text messages, faxes and even visits to a customer’s home or place of employment.
The story made the rounds on social media Monday and Tuesday, with Facebook and Twitter users expressing their fury over the aggressive and ominous-sounding conditions. Many vowed to cancel their cards.
But a switch may not do much good. An online search reveals that the “personal visit” condition is not that uncommon -- at least not for smaller banks. Nearly identical clauses show up in agreements for cards issued by Sunrise Banks, Southern Commerce, MB Financial Bank and United Bank, among others.
At the same time, sample credit-card agreements available from some of Capital One’s larger competitors, including Bank of America Corp. (NYSE:BAC) and Citigroup Inc. (NYSE:C), do not have “personal visit” conditions, nor do they grant companies the right to contact customers by any means they deem necessary. Wells Fargo & Co. (NYSE:WFC) appears to be somewhere in the middle -- saying it may contact you “using any contact information related to your Account.” However, its agreement does not specify personal visits.
In Capital One’s case, the condition in question comes from the “Communications” section on its credit card agreements. Capital One agreements have included the section for at least a few years, grabbing the attention of blogger Edward Hasbrouck as far back as 2009. In the L.A. Times article, the bank clarified that it does not send debt collectors to the homes or workplaces of general cardholders, but that it may do so as a last resort when customers default on big-ticket items such as jet skis or snowmobiles.
Nevertheless, at least one of Capital One’s debt collectors has cited the clause to defend itself against aggressive tactics, in this case calls to a customer’s cellphone. In a 2011 lawsuit, Capital One cardholder Debbie Anderson alleged that the collection firm Leading Edge Recovery violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by calling her cellphone without authorization and not identifying itself as a debt collector. Leading Edge sought a summary judgment in the case, pointing to the “Communications” section of Capital One’s agreement, which Anderson agreed to. However, a judged denied that motion in September 2012, saying it remained an open question whether or not agreeing to the terms constituted “prior express consent” for aggressive cellphone calls.
Following the backlash against Capital One, the “personal visit” clause may be history either way. The company said in a statement to CNN Money, “We’re considering creating two separate agreements given this language doesn’t apply to our general cardholder base.”
Given that its competitors seem to have no interest in making house calls, that’s probably the safest bet.