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St Petersburg Times: Credit Card Customer Service Reps' Tales Feed Fire

September 25, 2008

AFFIL appeared in this article by Robert Trigaux on September 25, 2008:

Just when “bad debt” took on a new meaning and U.S. taxpayers got stiffed with a huge bailout bill, a rare insider’s glimpse was offered Wednesday into the nefarious ways one large credit card company used high-pressure sales tactics to ensnare customers with misleading loans.

Cate Colombo worked from 2001 to 2005 as a customer service rep in a call center where she was one of many dealing by phone with MBNA credit card holders. She tells how she was pressured by bosses to press customers, regardless of their personal situation, to buy more services and take cash advances at high interest rates.

“I thought I was hired to provide customer service, but I was hired to sell cash,” Colombo says. “The goal at the time was to sell $25,000 an hour for 10 hours a day in a 40-hour week.”

That’s $4-million a month. When she didn’t sell enough or suggested the caller was in no financial position to take on borrowed cash, she says she was considered “insubordinate” and eventually fired.

Jerry Young, a former middle school teacher, worked at MBNA’s marketing division handling incoming or outgoing calls to sell extra goodies as card and auto insurance and travel agency services.

“When customers said no, we would reposition and restate an offer three times before taking no as a definite answer,” Young says. “I thought that was wrong.” He quit after the bank’s policy required reps to make sales to at least 15 percent of the people reached by phone.

It’s no coincidence Colombo and Young, both from Maine and MBNA employees before it was bought by Bank of America, told their stories this week.  They were recruited and paraded on ABC News (and scheduled for ABC’s Nightline last night) by Americans for Fairness in Lending.  The advocacy group unveiled the duo’s first-person confessions just as the House passed “The Credit Cardholder’s Bill of Rights,” legislation aimed at curtailing deceptive practices.

The Senate now looks at the bill. But it is overshadowed by the $700-billion Wall Street bailout sought by the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve.

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