This story was co-published with The Capitol Forum.
Saying they were “deeply troubled by recent reports” that JPMorgan Chase has “renewed its predatory practice of robo-signing,” six Senate Democrats on Monday asked Jamie Dimon, the company’s CEO, to provide “detailed information regarding the bank’s credit card debt collection practices.”
The letter, signed by five members of the Senate Banking Committee and its chairman, Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, cited an article by ProPublica and The Capitol Forum that revealed how Chase had launched an ongoing lawsuit blitz against indebted credit card customers when the pandemic began battering the economy in early 2020.
Chase had stopped pursuing credit card lawsuits nearly a decade ago when regulators found that the bank’s legal paperwork was often faulty. Back then, Chase lawsuits did not include extensive billing records; they typically contained a two-page affidavit signed by a Chase employee who swore that the bank records were reliable.
Chase employees signed affidavits “without personal knowledge of the signer, a practice commonly referred to as ‘robo-signing,’” the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau concluded in a consent order with Chase in 2015. Nearly 10% of lawsuits Chase won were for inflated totals and “contained erroneous amounts,” the CFPB found. Chase neither admitted nor denied the CFPB’s findings at the time, but agreed to provide “relevant information and documentation” in future suits.
When key terms of the CFPB settlement expired on New Year’s Day in 2020, Chase returned to suing credit card borrowers much as it did before, according to consumer lawyers and legal records.
“Chase should not utilize robo-signing in pursuing these debt collection suits, or any other debt,” according to the lawmakers’ letter. The letter asked Dimon to lay out the steps the company takes to verify the accuracy of its lawsuit claims. “How does Chase quality check the affidavits?” the lawmakers asked. “Do these employees have personal knowledge of the case?”
The letter also requested that Dimon provide details about the company’s credit card suits and their outcomes, and it inquired about Chase’s past promises to grant hardship exemptions to customers during the pandemic. Finally, the letter noted the “extensive evidence about racial disparities in debt collection” and asked what measures Chase has in place to make sure its debt collection practices don’t create these gaps.
Chase did not immediately reply to a request for comment. But in a statement for the earlier article by ProPublica and The Capitol Forum, Chase said its current system for processing credit card lawsuits is sound and reliable. “We quality-check 100% of our affidavits today,” the bank said. And, Chase said, “we continue to meet the requirements of the consent order.”
Before the CFPB settlement, roughly half a dozen Chase employees, working from a single San Antonio office, signed hundreds of thousands affidavits. Today, Chase has about a dozen employees mass-producing affidavits from the same office using some of the same methods as in the past, according to Chase employees and outside lawyers who have represented the company.
Chase declined to say how many suits it has filed in its blitz of the past two years, but civil dockets from across the country give a hint of the scale — and its accelerating pace. The company sued more than 800 credit card customers around Fort Lauderdale, Florida, last year after suing 70 in 2020 and none in 2019, according to a review of court records. In Houston, Chase filed more than 1,000 consumer debt lawsuits last year after filing only seven in 2020.
The lawmakers asked Dimon to respond to their letter by Feb. 21.