What in Your Wallet? Nothing!

Class Action

I’ve been looking for a reason to write about Capital One for the longest time. No. I’m not a customer, nor will I ever become one. My distaste for the nation’s “10th largest bank in terms of assets” stems from its inane and pervasive Viking-themed advertising.

“What lies in your wallet?”

It’s unclear what Capital One spends each year, but in 2010 the company ranked right up there as one of the nation’s largest advertisers and #2 (behind only BofA) in the financial services sector.

What Capital One won’t be advertising anytime soon is its practice of pursuing (and in some cases illegally suing) 15,500 of its credit card customers for outstanding payments…after the customers filed for bankruptcy protection.

The Wall Street Journal reports today:

“In 2008, a U.S. bankruptcy trustee in Massachusetts accused Capital One of illegally trying 5,600 times to collect debts already wiped out by a bankruptcy judge. The trustee, who declined to comment, said the wrongful claims were the result of Capital One’s failure to keep track of bankruptcy filings by its customers. The trustee began investigating the company when it allegedly sought $5,542.50 from a couple 14 years after the debt was erased.”

Few will argue with the success of those dumb viking/visgoth spots. They have empowered Capital One to build some 1000 U.S. branches in a relatively short time, and bid on ING’s online banking group for some $9 billion. (Eat your heart out, Geico caveman!)

Inane and attention-grabbing advertising, while often effective in terms of customer acquisition, can also be a double-edged sword. Who among isn’t feeling some schadenfreude this morning after hearing the news of Capital One’s practice of trying to doubly screw its customers?

I am, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Given all the other nefarious doings we’re seeing the banking sector sector, I wonder whether Capital One’s missteps would have merited the unwanted media attention if it didn’t have such a large and annoying advertising campaign.

Fortunately for the bank, the world is poised to shut down for the holidays. This negative story will have a short shelf life:

“The Capital One spokeswoman wouldn’t comment on the allegations, settlement or ongoing scrutiny. In a court filing, Capital One said it beefed up record-keeping procedures before being prodded by the bankruptcy trustee.”

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