Navy Federal Credit Union will pay $28.5 million in restitution and fines after agreeing to a consent order with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The CFPB alleged that the credit union made false threats about debt collection to members, which include active and retired servicemembers and their families. The credit union also unfairly restricted access to accounts when members had a delinquent loan.
Navy Federal Credit Union is the nation’s largest credit union, with $73 billion in assets.
Among the claims made by the CFPB are:
- Falsely threatened legal action and wage garnishment: The credit union sent letters to members threatening to take legal action unless they made a payment. But in reality, it seldom took any such actions. The CFPB found that the credit union’s message to consumers of “pay or be sued” was inaccurate about 97 percent of the time, even among consumers who did not make a payment in response to the letters. The credit union’s representatives also called members with similar verbal threats of legal action. And the credit union threatened to garnish wages when it had no intention or authority to do so.
- Falsely threatened to contact commanding officers to pressure servicemembers to repay: The credit union sent letters to dozens of servicemembers threatening that the credit union would contact their commanding officers if they did not promptly make a payment. The credit union’s representatives also communicated these threats by telephone. For members of the military, consumer credit problems can result in disciplinary proceedings or lead to revocation of a security clearance. The credit union was not authorized and did not intend to contact the servicemembers’ chains of command about the debts it was attempting to collect.
- Misrepresented credit consequences of falling behind on a loan: The credit union sent about 68,000 letters to members misrepresenting the credit consequences of falling behind on a Navy Federal Credit Union loan. Many of the letters said that consumers would find it “difficult, if not impossible” to obtain additional credit because they were behind on their loan. But the credit union had no basis for that claim, as it did not review consumer credit files before sending the letters. The credit union also misrepresented its influence on a consumer’s credit rating, implying that it could raise or lower the rating or affect a consumer’s access to credit. As a furnisher, the credit union could supply information to the credit reporting companies but it could not determine a consumer’s credit score.
- Illegally froze members’ access to their accounts: The credit union froze electronic account access and disabled electronic services for about 700,000 accounts after consumers became delinquent on a Navy Federal Credit Union credit product. This meant delinquency on a loan could shut down a consumer’s debit card, ATM, and online access to the consumer’s checking account. The only account actions consumers could take online would be to make payments on delinquent or overdrawn accounts.
The credit union has agreed to pay $23 million to the 68,000 members who received threatening letters. All individuals who received the letter threatening to contact the individuals’ commanding officers will receive at least $1,000. Navy FCU will also pay a $5.5 million fine to the CFPB.