Citibank Says, "Stealing From Our Customers is a Business Decision"

05 Sep Citibank Says, "Stealing From Our Customers is a Business Decision"

What do you think would happen if you walked into a convenience store and took money out of the till? How about if you robbed a bank? Embezzled from your employer? I’d be willing to bet that you’d be serving some serious jail time… unless, of course, you’re Citibank. The lending giant stole, in effect, over $14 million dollars from credit card holders between 1992 and 2003, according to the State of California Department of Justice.

Marketplace is reporting that Citigroup has agreed to a settlement following a three-year investigation for their “account sweeping program.” According to California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown, Jr. this practice consisted of taking positive credit card balances from customer accounts and putting them into a corporate account.   Even worse – the vast majority of the 53,000 accounts affected by the sweep were in recovery status, which means that Citibank was targeting the recently deceased as well as those suffering from financial hardship (such as those in the bankruptcy process, or in collections from Citibank).

According to the press release on The California Attorney General’s website, an anonymous Citibank executive said, “Stealing from our customers is a business decision, not a legal decision.” The same executive later said that the sweep program “…could not be stopped because it would reduce the executive bonus pool”.

How can such a thing occur? Why is it only now getting media attention? If you find it hard to believe that no one said anything about this program, you should know that someone tried. According to The Consumerist, “…a whistleblower brought the program to the attention of an internal audit team in 2001, but that person was ignored and later fired.”

The terms of the settlement stipulate that Citibank must pay back the affected customers the “swept” amount plus 10% by June of 2009, but many customers consider this to be nothing more than a slap on the wrist, as no criminal charges have discussed as of yet. Apparently theft isn’t theft if you’re Citibank.

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Jay S. Fleischman is a bankruptcy lawyer with offices in Los Angeles and New York. He can often be found on Google+ and Twitter, where he shares information about consumer protection issues and personal finance.
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