Did Carrying a Credit Card Just Get Creepy?

We are right in the middle of an uncomfortable controversy over wiretapping, phone record snooping, and email eavesdropping by law enforcement and/or military agencies – most notably the National Security Administration. Americans are seeking to find the right balance in regard to preserving constitutional freedoms while giving the government the tools it needs to ensure security and protection. Meanwhile consumers are debating whether marketing companies have the legitimate right to monitor their movements and personal browsing habits on the Internet through various digital tracking technologies.

Everyone wants to have individual control over how and when their personal information is shared, so that the decision is theirs – not someone else’s. That’s why it was so disturbing for Americans to read that one of the leading credit card companies in the world thinks it has the right to show up on a customer’s doorstep or workplace whenever they want. Many folks don’t even want their friends or relatives to show up unannounced – and they definitely don’t want their bank to either!

Capital One’s New “Personal Visitation” Policy

The news broke in late February when the Los Angeles Times published a feature article by business columnist David Lazarus with the headline, “Capital One says it can show up at cardholders’ homes, workplaces.”

According to the article, Capital One had updated their cardholder agreement contract by adding a clause that says “we may contact you in any manner we choose.” They went on to specify that the contact could take the form of calls, emails, texts, or a “personal visit” and that the visitation could occur “at your home and at your place of employment.”

That’s probably getting too close for comfort to suit many cardholders who would rather close their Capital One accounts than agree to that sort of relationship. As the columnist pointed out, even the police need a court order to suddenly show up at your workplace for a personal chat. If the Internal Revenue Service has a beef with you, they have to first get a court order before they can pay a visit – and the IRS has incredible legal leeway and clout. As explained on the Federal Trade Commission website, there are also strict federal laws against bill collectors contacting you whenever and wherever they feel like it. “A debt collector may not contact you at inconvenient times or places,” the FTC says, “such as before eight in the morning or after nine at night, unless you agree to it. And collectors may not contact you at work if they’re told (orally or in writing) that you’re not allowed to get calls there.”

Beyond Visitation into Caller ID Suppression

Apparently Capital One prefers to fully exploit loopholes that say it is not against the law or a violation of the 4th Amendment for it to initiate this kind of contact. Not only does Capital One claim to have the right to pop in any time they please, but they take it to a whole ‘nother level with this disclosure found in the updated contract:

“We may modify or suppress caller ID and similar services and identify ourselves on these services in any manner we choose.”

The only reason a caller would resort to that kind of tactic is to coerce you into unwittingly picking up the phone when you do not want to talk to that particular caller. Resorting to that kind of trickery is not illegal, as long as you don’t do it to commit fraud or to harm somebody, but that doesn’t make it any less sleazy or unethical.

The Bottom Line

Consumers ultimately have control of their banking relationships in one important way; they have the power to decide with whom they want to do business with. When credit card companies start using tactics that resemble a preemptive strike, they risk alienating their customers by showing a complete lack of trust or regard for personal privacy. In the old days your bank or credit card company was grateful for your business and wanted to build a sustainable customer relationship based on mutual trust and respect.

Companies that still adhere to that kind of customer-centric philosophy, brand, and image are probably thrilled by this new Capital One “play hardball” approach. Thanks to Capital One’s recent customer relationship misstep, their competitors now have a fantastic opportunity to steal Capital One’s market share by just showing a modicum of sensitivity and being just a wee bit less creepy.  Only time will tell whether Capital One reverses its controversial policy, or if the pendulum swings in the opposite direction and other companies start to follow Capital One’s lead by adopting this rather tyrannical and invasive approach.

Tom Kerr writes for the blog at CompareCards.com, in addition to others. He has been an avid writer for years, even winning awards for work he’s done.