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WBZ-TV (CBS) Boston airs coverage including NewCreditRules.com and ChangeInTerms.com sites

Kevin Johnson and his site, NewCreditRules.com, as well as the ChangeInTerms.com site, have received television coverage in a segment entitled, “‘Curious’ About Credit Card Interest Rates.”  The piece was aired by WBZ-TV (CBS) Boston on March 17, 2009, as reported by Paula Ebben.

Part of the story featured Kevin as he described his ordeal with American Express, and he was quoted to say:

“People like me, who have excellent credit, pristine payment histories, are getting thrown under the bus as it were, and again, I think that a lot of the tactics that they are using now are totally illegal.”

Following the aforementioned quote, the report suggested, “unfortunately, they’re not against the law, yet.”  This matter of legality, or not, merits some discussion here.  Media coverage in print or broadcast is often constrained by space and time limitations. 

While I am not a lawyer, the “not against the law, yet” remark that followed Kevin’s quote could be perceived by viewers as one that corrects him (as though he may be misinformed).  However, I happen to know that had he been given more time, Kevin could have in turn added clarity.  For instance, the fact that there are now 12 class action lawsuits (that we are tracking to-date) against Chase, supports the proposition that Kevin presented.  At the very least, it has been vigorously alleged that what Chase has done, is indeed “totally illegal.”

I ran into this same situation when I received coverage in the New York Times.  The typical quote that Chase keeps sending out in its media spin campaign was used: “these changes affected less than one half of 1 percent of its accounts and were aimed at those who had carried large balances for more than two years while making little progress in paying them off.” 

Although Ron Lieber did publish my own personal rebuttal to the “little progress in paying them off” claim on the part of Chase in a snippet of text from me, I had a lot more to say and was only able to fully articulate my points here on the ChangeInTerms.com site, which imposes no limits on space.  As a reminder, here are a few links that shed additional light on the New York Times coverage:

Dr. Robert Lahm in the New York Times — Not enough space, to talk about Chase

Only Paying the Minimum–Not True in my Case with Chase

The two posts above primarily referred to my own situation.  However, Chase has continued to “hunker down” in the press and repeat information that is extremely misleading, which reporters keep publishing without much apparent effort at critical reasoning or further investigation (I sent a correction to USA Today’s Kathy Chu, for instance, which it seems to have ignored).  For a while, there were no observable efforts to associate a number with the stated percentage.  We now know by our own estimates as well as some subsequent quotes from Chase that the “less than one half of 1 percent” is associated with 400,000 account holders (if the claimed percentage and 400,000 number is accurate). 

Regardless of the number or the percentage, the original “spin” was an obvious deflection meant to minimize the issue with respect to the number of persons who were impacted.  That any member of the media would fail to cross-examine what this number really means constitutes some very irresponsible reporting, and is a true injustice, especially in such challenging times.  For instance, by comparison, according to a report in the Financial Times, there were 290,631 foreclosure filings in February 2009 (one out of every 440 homes).  Further, given that many of the account holders may have families or own small businesses that have been hurt (and those small businesses may employ others), a domino effect would render that 400,000 number far larger relative to its actual impact on regular folks like you and me.  We also know the “squeeze” in general on the part of the credit card industry as a whole is affecting entrepreneurs (and as an entrepreneurship professor, this is extremely troubling to me).

Nevertheless, even one person being treated unfairly goes completely against statements made by Chase executives in Congressional testimony (just like the lies about providing an opt out, as evidenced by the fact that an opt out is conspicuously missing; see item 7, here).  Carter Franke, (page 1) said:

We appreciate our customers, and we believe our success is based on maintaining a good relationship with every one of them. 

Does that mean “every one of them” except me, and 399,999 other account holders?  That would be an extremely large exception to Carter Franke’s claim (and that claim was also made by the former CEO of Chase Card Services; see the post on “Scripted Messages“). 

Let me add that my wife — although her accounts have not been associated with this present “5% minimum payment add a new service charge that ‘is a finance charge‘ to a ‘fixed‘ promotional rate” change in terms debacle — previously closed two of her accounts after a supervisor basically communicated that Chase didn’t care if it kept her business, or not (and this was a few years ago, long before the economy tumbled). 

I mentioned this instance with my wife in my December 3, 2008 letter to Chase Card Services CEO Gordon Smith, by the way, and never heard a “peep” addressing my wife’s experiences — looks like we’re missing some “warm fuzzies” with respect to Chase’s “relationship” with her as well.  Readers here should also note that my wife and I both have a perfect payment history on all of our accounts, to clarify that Chase should have cared and was instead callous toward her.  Hence, the “good relationship with every one of them” claim must mean except me, 399,999 others, plus, my wife — do you think there may be any more exceptions out there? 

I keep mentioning that the “word gets around,” and it’s interesting that credit card companies don’t seem to get the point that if they abuse one person in a household, others will find out.  Chase also rate-jacked a former colleague of mine, and I found out about that, too (the former colleague does not feel any warmth from Chase, either, so I am reminded of yet another exception — seems everywhere you look, the “thrown under the bus” body count keeps rising). 

Let me now address the other aspect of the oft repeated Chase spin, “little progress in paying them off,” with respect to accounts besides my own.  One day I started researching this statement and found numerous exceptions to this claim as well.  I should point out that this, too, was a deflection, since it was simply a derogatory remark that attempted to tarnish account holders who were previously identified as being among Chase’s “most Valued Cardmembers.”  By virtue of Chase’s failure to acknowledge that the affected account holders were indeed meeting their obligations, its portrayal was insulting.  I would further suggest this this constitutes a form of damage to the reputation of individuals — me, and 399,999 others — by unfairly casting them in a negative light when this was not deserved.

The findings from my research efforts were quite amazing, as it was not difficult at all to locate numerous Internet posts and comments in which others had indicated that they were paying more than the minimum, and contrary to Chase’s claim were indeed making great “progress.”  Do I have to keep saying that, nevertheless, the rate of progress is irrelevant since account holders were paying as agreed on accounts that were promoted as “fixed APR Until the balance is paid in full” loans? 

Subsequently, I assembled this post, which cited numerous instances where this portrayal of “making little progress” did not ring true; you’ll note at the end I concluded, given the time to keep scouring the Internet (or discovery through legal processes in connection with the class action lawsuits), I think we could find thousands of exceptions:

Chase “aimed at” account holders who were only paying the minimum? Someone must need new eyeglasses.

Meanwhile, I appreciate any coverage we can get, because it obviously “takes an uproar” to get Congress to actually do something to make sure us regular people in the “village” will have any protection from a very abusive credit card industry.  This is an industry that has for the most part, managed to operate like a gang of thugs under existing laws, and engage in what amounts to legalized loan sharking for years and years.  And, as alleged in numerous class action lawsuits, companies like Chase may be engaged in some “totally illegal” activities, as well (like Kevin said). 

We need even more coverage and to also make sure that members of the media “connect the dots” and recognize that people like Kevin, as well as millions of other entrepreneurs who have bootstrapped businesses, are struggling now.  What the banks are doing  is “no way to run an economic recovery.”

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