Lawsuit: Capital One Sent Me Letter Demanding $286 Million

A woman in Pennsylvania has filed a lawsuit against Capital One after a dispute over a few thousand in credit card debt spiraled out of control until, she alleges, it culminated in the credit card company sending her a letter demanding the immediate payment of more than $286 million.

According to the lawsuit, the woman had originally received a notice from Capital One regarding a balance of around $3,800 on her account. She claims she disputed the charges and referred the company to her lawyer.

The suit alleges that Capital One disregarded this request and continued to contact her and her family members about the debt. After receiving further statements and demands for payment, the plaintiff says she eventually received notice that she owed Capital One $286,651,237 and was to remit payment immediately.

The plaintiff’s lawyer believes that the $286 million amount was not a computer error but was an attempt to “shock and intimidate” his client and destroy her credit standing.

The suit also alleges that Capital One filed suit against the plaintiff but that no one from the credit card company showed up at the hearing.

Says the plaintiff’s lawyer in a statement to Consumerist:

Harassing calls, disregard for a lawyers written instructions on two occasions, demands for payment of differing and arbitrary amounts and the final letter seeking more than $286 Million, demonstrates serious abuses at the collection office of Capital One… From this example we see how a financial terrorist works in today’s economic times and that is by escalating tensions, pushing the person to the limit, and making threats, without regard for civility, accuracy or the legal rights of the individual. No one should ever suffer the indignity and humiliation my client has experienced.

When reached for comment, a rep for Capital One tells Consumerist:

As a matter of policy, we don’t discuss the details of pending legal matters.

However, there are very rare occasions when human error has led to inaccuracies in a customer billing letters. This is clearly one of those instances.

We understand, and sincerely regret, the confusion that receiving an invoice of this size must have caused. We are working to resolve this issue.

What’s in Your Wallet? [Courthouse News]

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  1. Power Imbalance says:

    Sounds like she has a great FCRA lawsuit on her hands, I’ve read accounts where people who have been harassed by banks like this have walked away with as much as 1.5 million.

  2. Skellbasher says:

    Assuming that it was some kind of error that generated the $286M letter, Capital One is still screwed here.

    Once she notified Capital One that she had an attorney representing her, they can’t keep contacting her. They must work through the attorney. Continuing to go after the debtor in this scenario is an FDCPA violation.

    On the upside, this woman should be able to get enough in FDCPA violation fines out of Capital One to pay off the debt plus legal fees.

    • Skellbasher says:

      And since someone will ask for it, here are the relevant sections of the FDCPA:

      § 805. Communication in connection with debt collection
      (a) COMMUNICATION WITH THE CONSUMER GENERALLY. Without the prior consent of the consumer given
      directly to the debt collector or the express permission of
      a court of competent jurisdiction, a debt collector may not
      communicate with a consumer in connection with the collection of any debt—

      (2) if the debt collector knows the consumer is represented
      by an attorney with respect to such debt and has knowledge of, or can readily ascertain, such attorney’s name
      and address, unless the attorney fails to respond within
      a reasonable period of time to a communication from
      the debt collector or unless the attorney consents to
      direct communication with the consumer;

      § 813. Civil liability
      (a) Except as otherwise provided by this section, any debt collector who fails to comply with any provision of this title
      with respect to any person is liable to such person in an
      amount equal to the sum of—

      (1) any actual damage sustained by such person as a result
      of such failure;
      (2) (A) in the case of any action by an individual, such
      additional damages as the court may allow, but not
      exceeding $1,000; or
      (B) in the case of a class action,
      (i) such amount for each named plaintiff as could
      be recovered under subparagraph (A), and
      (ii) such amount as the court may allow for all
      other class members, without regard to a minimum individual recovery, not to exceed the
      lesser of $500,000 or 1 per centum of the net
      worth of the debt collector; and
      (3) in the case of any successful action to enforce the
      foregoing liability, the costs of the action, together with
      a reasonable attorney’s fee as determined by the court.
      On a finding by the court that an action under this
      section was brought in bad faith and for the purpose
      of harassment, the court may award to the defendant
      attorney’s fees reasonab

      • WalterSinister2 says:

        Does that apply to the original creditor or just to third party debt collectors that the debt was sold to?

        As a separate issue:
        In general (not in debt situations) if you have a legal dispute with someone, their lawyer isn’t allowed to contact you once you have told them to talk to your lawyer, but the person you have the dispute with can contact you (unless a specific law or injunction overrides that rule).

    • thompson says:

      FDCPA applies to third-party debt collectors, not to first-party debt originators. If Capital One had sold the debt to Lousy Debt Collector, Inc. then it would be a FDCPA violation, but since Capital One originated the debt, they aren’t constrained by the FDCPA.

      • Skellbasher says:

        Depends on the state. Many states have particular laws that extend FDCPA protections to original creditors.

        My experience with Capital One was that they never directly collected their own debts. Even though they say they’re from Cap One, they’re a separate agency, bound to the FDCPA That may have changed in the last 10 years, but it was true back in the early 2000s.

        Regardless, even a first party creditor has to comply with someone represented by counsel.

        • thompson says:

          Oh I agree on the part where they’re contacting her instead of counsel, they should rightly get creamed for that one (and the attorneys involved probably will have some ethics issues with their state bar).

          • ARP says:

            Yes, if you’re a lawyer and you learn that a person is being represented by a lawyer, you cannot contact them directly anymore, you must go through their lawyer. There are limited exceptions, but I doubt any of them apply here. This is the ethics rule in most/all states.

      • Trick says:

        I believe in California FDCPA applies to original creditors. Not all states have this rule though…

      • JohnnyP says:

        But I do believe that Capital One has their own collections agency. Separate company but same name.

    • eddieck says:

      They are using the Pennsylvania version of the FDCPA.

  3. Bativac says:

    In college, I had a credit card with Capital One. The card had a limit of $500 (which I promptly used up on schoolbooks one semester).

    Thru a combination of poor financial management on my part (read: forgetting to pay the bill) and paying only the minimum, the balanced ballooned to over $2k. I did pay it off, years later, and closed the account. I wouldn’t put it past Capital One to try to scare this woman into paying off the balance…but it sounds like this letter was definitely just an error on somebody’s part.

    • robhossal says:

      So you’re saying you wouldn’t put it past Capital One to scare the OP because you let your $500 debt turn into a $2,000+ debt?

  4. areaman says:

    The only thing they didn’t say is they’re taking it seriously.

    I’m surprised they owned up and said it was an error on their part. Feels like they are somewhat human at Capital One.

  5. ihatephonecompanies says:

    If it was indeed an error, there should be no problem reversing the $286 million, but Capital One should be charged interest for the period in which they erroneously charged the woman’s account. I think 19.99% apr is an appropriate rate.

  6. Thyme for an edit button says:

    That’s a bit too much human error (the calls, ignoring the lawyer, the overbilling) for me to believe this was an honest mistake. This is incompetence. I have been thinking of getting a travel rewards credit card… not really feeling that Capital One Venture One card I had been considering.

  7. Bob Lu says:

    They are in a lawsuit and someone admitted that they made a mistake? They are pretty honest, by the standard of banks I think.

  8. danmac says:

    My favorite quote from the official complaint filed with the court: Capital One’s advertising slogan “what’s in your wallet?” is promoted across the media, including television, radio and internet, trumping (sic) the value of its product.

    Capital One apparently wanted to know not only was in the Plaintiff’s wallet (sic), but intended to empty her wallet as well.”

    Oh, and that complaint could have been proofread before its submission as an official document…just saying.

    • NeverLetMeDown says:

      “Harassing calls, disregard for a lawyers [sic] written instructions on two occasions, demands for payment of differing and arbitrary amounts and the final letter seeking more than $286 Million, demonstrates [sic] serious abuses at the collection office of Capital One”

      Doesn’t surprise me there are glaring grammar errors in the suit, given that the lawyer’s statement to Consumerist has two obvious errors (failure to properly use the possessive and subject/verb agreement problem).

    • AstroPig7 says:

      Oddly enough, that use of trump is correct, if obsolete: “To proclaim, celebrate, or extol by, or as by, the sound of a trumpet” (Oxford English Dictionary).

      • danmac says:

        I believe the word they were looking for is, indeed, trumpet…the verb form of it, to be specific. I understand that trump may be an antiquated form of the verb, but I highly doubt that the lawyer drafting the document would purposively make that distinction.

        • Red Cat Linux says:

          Actually, if you want to think of it in another way, “trump” is indeed (and snarkily) correct.

          The catchy ads trump the poor product and service. Unfortunately. Should be the other way around, really.

  9. danmac says:

    Oh, and I like the amount of damages being sought: “Damages equal to amount sought by Defendant from Plaintiff ($286,651,237.00).”

    • ARP says:

      That is funny. They’ll never get it, but I like their gumption.

    • cortana says:

      Apparently her state has a statute that allows someone sued to countersue for the amount sought by a plaintiff who fails to appear. That’s what she’s doing, and why the number is so large.

  10. william says:

    kind of unrelated, but from reading the lawyer’s repsonse…

    Has anyone feel like the word “terrorist” is really watered down these days? everything and everyone is a terrorist.

    Next thing we know we are going to have bathroom terrorist who pees outside the urinal. the road terrorist who cuts you off. the dinner table terrorist who critics your roast beef.

    • gamehendge2000 says:

      And the grammar terrorist who critiques your spelling of ‘critiques’

    • qwickone says:

      I think I would feel terrorized if my $4K balance became almost $300 million. But I agree, it’s over-used.

    • Blueskylaw says:

      “Has anyone feel like the word “terrorist” is really watered down these days?”

      You are a HERO for having the guts to say that.

    • lucky13 says:

      I agree that the term is overused and watered down these days, but in the case of Capital One, terrorist is is probably the most appropriate description.

    • lockdog says:

      I think you meant “critiques the roast beef,” butt I suppose that would make me a Grammar Terrorist.

    • lawgirl502 says:

      Clearly the word terrorist, since 9/11, has a tremendous affect on us as Americans, and typically gets our attention.
      Here, they are outright criminal enterprises perpetuated by government regulations which encourage their underlying purpose- to generate $.
      Legislators know damn well what is going on. Remember when they said there was going to be credit card overhaul? Yeh, well look at how we as credit card holders have gotten an even worse deal than before the legislation. It’s insanity via DC.

  11. LadyTL says:

    Capital One tried to do this with me. Their collection agency tried to get me to keep paying endlessly past when I paid off the debt and when I called them on it, they disappeared.

  12. MongoAngryMongoSmash says:

    This is why Vikings should not be running a company. They screw up the paperwork. It’s always pillage and rape, rape and pillage. Burn, Burn, rape, pillage and burn. They know nothing of due diligence.

  13. yessongs says:

    Here… Let me just write you a check!

    • squirrel says:

      That check would be worth the overdraft fee. Only if it was drawn from a Capital One checking account.

      OTOH, where the hell do they think $3800 can magically turn into $286 million over the course of a few years (I am assuming the timeframe here)? Whatever fund that is, I have a 401K that’s done essentially nothing for the past few years to invest in it.

  14. shadowhh says:

    I hope she wins 287 Million from Them.

  15. not-gonna-tell-ya says:

    I wonder if the customer service rep she worked with is named Peggy….

  16. sopmodm14 says:

    can’t imagine with vikings as their customer base they’re profiable

  17. buckeye17 says:

    Haha I work at that location. That photo is definitely outdated as it’s no longer the ugly teal/gray and the nicer blue/red.

  18. FrugalFreak says:

    It sounds like they wanted to tack on legal research fees of $286,651.237 maybe because of the legal contact from credit consumers lawyer. but exposure brought all that crashing down possibly.

  19. lawgirl502 says:

    $286 mil…clerical error? Sue their asses off. The entire credit card industry are legalized loan sharks, only WORSE. They are criminal operations that the government has enabled to continue. No one can dispute this fact.

  20. eddieck says:

    Don’t forget that Capital One did not just send a letter demanding $286m. They actually SUED this person. As in, they fucking filed a lawsuit with the court. And failed to appear.