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Capital One is Standing in Your Front Yard, Trying to Act Casual

Catherine Ruetschlin

Since the days of Diner’s Club, credit cards have evolved to become a key element of American household finances. When emergency strikes we may not have cash in hand, but with access to credit cards a broken arm, a busted furnace, or a last-minute plane ticket doesn’t have to leave our families vulnerable to insolvency, abusive lending, or the knock of a loan shark on the front door. Moreover, the improvements in credit card contracts since 2008’s CARD Act have offered consumers even greater security from the most predatory and perfidious practices of lenders.

Despite the ubiquity and regulation of credit card contracts, there is still plenty of room left for consumers to feel anxiety about their relationship with their credit card provider.

One account of Capital One’s new “menacing and creepy” terms of contract in the LA Times identifies a renewed level of vulnerability for debtors who thought the market had moved beyond a loan shark making a house call. While they stop short of threatening to break anyone’s knees, the company is not above sending a couple of guys over to your house for some more aggressive debt-reconciliation. According to the LA Times:

The update specifies that "we may contact you in any manner we choose" and that such contacts can include calls, emails, texts, faxes or a "personal visit."  As if that weren't creepy enough, Cap One says these visits can be "at your home and at your place of employment."

That’s a greater invasion of your personal space than is legally permitted to police officers without a warrant, but it’s not illegal for a corporation like Capital One. And don’t bother turning off the lights, because the terms include other wily strategies for ensuring you pay up.

Incredibly, Cap One's aggressiveness doesn't stop with personal visits. The company's contract update also includes this little road apple: "We may modify or suppress caller ID and similar services and identify ourselves on these services in any manner we choose." Now that's just freaky. Cap One is saying it can trick you into picking up the phone by using what looks like a local number or masquerading as something it's not, such as Save the Puppies or a similarly friendly-seeming bogus organization.

As noted by the LA Times, the idea that your credit card provider can scheme their way into your kitchen is unsettling in a way that should make card holders nervous.

Meanwhile, research from Demos and the NAACP has shown that African Americans are more likely to face the harshest consequences of debt, experiencing more calls from collection agents and credit tightening than other groups despite similarly timely repayment. Whether those phone calls will lead to more house calls remains to be seen. Really, it’s about how comfortable Capital One is with being known as the creepiest credit card company around.