Two federal regulators have ordered First National Bank of Omaha to pay a total of $35 million over charges that the bank engaged in deceptive marketing of credit card add-on products that some consumers allegedly never received.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency filed separate orders Thursday against the $18 billion-asset bank related to debt cancellation, credit monitoring and identity theft add-on products.
The bank was ordered to pay $27.75 million in relief to roughly 257,000 consumers and a $4.5 million civil money penalty to the CFPB. The OCC separately assessed a $3 million penalty against the bank to be paid to the Treasury Department. The bank also had to provide restitution to consumers who were unfairly billed for identity theft protection products sold from 1997 to 2013 that were never received, the OCC said.
"First National Bank of Omaha violated the trust of its customers by illegally signing them up for credit card add-on products," CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a press release. "The CFPB's track record, and this result today, shows strong and consistent action against credit card companies that dupe consumers into buying a product they do not want."
Daniel K. O'Neill, First National Bank of Omaha's president, said in a statement that the add-on products were sold and administered by the third-party marketing company Affinion Group and its subsidiary, Trilegiant. Affinion, a Stamford, Conn., marketer of loyalty programs that is owned by the giant private equity group Apollo Global Management, agreed to pay $10 million in fees and restitution last year to the CFPB. A spokesman for Affinion did not return calls seeking comment.
"We did not provide our intended customer experience. For this, we provide our sincere apology," O'Neill said. "While the bank did not intentionally mislead our customers, our oversight of the products and the vendor that administered these products was lacking."
First National Bank of Omaha has set aside reserves for all reimbursements and penalties and the consent orders will not affect the bank's future earnings, O'Neill said. Customers will receive an average of $110 in reimbursement per person, he said.
The bureau said the bank deceptively marketed two debt cancellation add-on products from 2010 to 2012 and illegally billed for credit monitoring products that some consumers did not receive from 1997 to 2012. The practice stopped after a CFPB supervisory exam.
The CFPB said the bank forced consumers who were activating their credit cards to listen to a sales pitch for debt cancellation products and led some consumers to believe they would not have to pay for the add-ons. The bank confirmed enrollment in the products by asking for a consumer's city of birth — not by asking if the customer wanted the product. In some cases, the bank made it appear that it was simply updating a consumer's account, not executing an actual purchase.
Moreover, although the bank marketed the debt cancellation products as easy to cancel, sales representatives were awarded more money for retaining customers who had tried to cancel, the CFPB said. In some cases, cardholders did not receive credit monitoring services because the bank failed to properly process their authorization, according to the bureau.