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California sues big bank over debt collections

California Attorney General Kamala Harris sued JPMorgan Chase & Co. today, claiming the bank used fraudulent and unlawful debt-collection practices about 100,000 Californians.

The lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court claims Chase engaged in widespread, illegal robo-signing, among other unlawful practices, to commit debt-collection abuses against credit-card borrowers over at least three years.

Kamala Harris“Chase abused the judicial process and engaged in serious misconduct against California credit card borrowers,” Harris said in a news release. “This enforcement action seeks to hold Chase accountable for systematically using illegal tactics to flood California’s courts with specious lawsuits against consumers. My office will demand a permanent halt to these practices and redress for borrowers who have been harmed.”

Chase spokesman Paul Hartwick said the bank would make no comment Thursday.

Chase from January 2008 through April 2011 filed thousands of debt collection lawsuits every month in California – including 469 such suits on one day alone. The lawsuit alleges that to keep up this pace, the bank “cut corners in the name of speed, cost savings, and their own convenience, providing only the thinnest veneer of legitimacy to their lawsuits.”

For example, Chase is accused of illegally “robo-signing” various court filings, including sworn documents, declarations, and verified complaints, without reviewing the relevant files or bank records or even reading the documents before signing.

The lawsuit also accuses the bank of failing to properly serve notice of debt collection lawsuits against consumers while claiming they had been served as required by law – a practice sometimes called “sewer service” which results in the consumers not even knowing they’ve been sued.

And the lawsuit claims Chase haphazardly assembled its official legal filings – for example, failing to redact consumers’ personal information in attachments to filings, potentially exposing them to identity theft and in violation of California law. Also, when asking courts to enter default judgments against consumers, Chase consistently swore under penalty of perjury that the consumers weren’t on active military duty when in fact the bank hadn’t actually checked.

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House passes Credit Cardholders Bill of Rights

The House today voted 357-70 to pass H.R. 627, the Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights, which will require credit-card companies to give 45 days notice of all interest rate increases and significant fee changes; prevent credit-card companies from unfairly increasing interest rates on existing balances; end unfair “double cycle” billing practices; require card companies to mail billing statements 21 days before the due date; and prohibit companies from charging a fee when customers pay their bills.

From Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton:

“I’ve heard from many people that have had their credit card interest rate sky-rocket without due notice or explanation. At a time when Americans are struggling to make ends meet, they shouldn’t have the additional worry of a sudden hike in their interest rate or unexpected fees without notice. This bill will help protect Americans from these unfair practices.”

More from the Bay Area delegation, after the jump…
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House passes Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights

The House today voted 312-112 to pass H.R. 5244, the Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights Act of 2008. The entire Bay Area delegation supported it.

Said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco:

“With the economic security of the American families in jeopardy, Democrats have been clear that we must insulate Main Street from the crisis on Wall Street. Central to our efforts is ending unfair lending practices by the credit card industry.

“For too long, the credit card industry has faced too few regulations and too little oversight. As a result, many Americans have become saddled with excessive credit card fees, sky-high interest rates, and unfair, incomprehensible agreements that credit-card companies revise at will. This legislation will put into law a number of regulations proposed by the Federal Reserve Board earlier this year that will help protect Americans from abusive lending practices.

“The Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights will provide working families with the fair lending laws they need, while ensuring that credit card companies can continue to make the loans on which many Americans rely. It is time to make sure that the market works for the American people with common-sense regulations of the financial services industries.”

And, from House Education & Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Martinez:

“As most Americans know very well, credit cardholders increasingly confront problems stemming from the unfair practices of large credit card companies. High interest rates, outrageous late fees, ‘teaser’ rates, and inadequate payment periods drag many American families into debt and lower their credit scores. Unfair, incomprehensible agreements that credit-card companies revise at the drop of a hat complicate matters and add to the difficulties consumers have in managing their finances.

“I co-sponsored and voted today for the Credit Cardholders Bill of Rights to help consumers better manage their family finances and reduce their chances of being swindled by credit card companies. … With so many economic concerns facing our communities and our country, the last thing people need is deceptive practices by credit card companies to make things worse. Our bill is good for consumers and the economy and I urge the Senate to pass it as quickly as possible.”

Details of the bill, after the jump… Continue Reading