Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Did you OK a visit from Capital One?

By Danny Cevallos, CNN Legal Analyst
May 28, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
A Capitol One branch reflects a New York building. The bank said it does not send debt collectors to homes or offices.
A Capitol One branch reflects a New York building. The bank said it does not send debt collectors to homes or offices.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Capital One cardholder contract said it can make a "personal visit" if you owe money
  • Danny Cevallos: We check "yes" on long online contracts without really reading them
  • Cevallos: These contracts might be sneaky, but aren't we responsible if we sign them?
  • Cevallos: Capital One said it's an oversight, just a boilerplate contract, and no one will visit

Editor's note: Danny Cevallos, a CNN legal analyst, is a criminal defense attorney practicing in Philadelphia, New York and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

(CNN) -- Capital One wants to know what's in your wallet. It also wants to know your address, so its representatives can come visit if you owe money.

At least, those are the accusations leveled at the credit card giant this week.

At first blush, it seems that Capital One would be barred from this activity by federal law. Specifically, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act outlaws even less-intrusive behavior. Under the act, debt collectors are prohibited from making repeated phone calls, calling before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., or even calling at times the collector should have known are inconvenient.

Danny Cevallos
Danny Cevallos

Certainly, the debt collection act would frown upon showing up at a debtor's home. It would. The problem is, the act protects debtors against abusive collection tactics by third-party debt collectors and debt buyers only. It does not apply to the original creditor.

There's nothing in the debt collection act that prevents Capital One from showing up at your home: In fact, the law doesn't prevent the original creditor from doing anything. As long as no other law bars this activity, the parties -- consumer and credit card company -- appear to be free to enter into a contract.

Capital One's rules said customers can be contacted by mail, phone, e-mail or "personal visit." Does that mean consumers can unwittingly agree to their credit card company showing up at their door because they missed a payment?

Modern contract law is on a collision course with technology. Historically, contracts have been paper, detailed in a reasonable number of pages. The expectation that a consumer would read an entire contract was not unreasonable. Today, the price of existing in the modern world is hastily clicking our assent to an endless number of "clickwrap" agreements, often dozens of pages long, where you simply scroll through and check a box to complete your purchase.

Because we all depend on the Internet to a large extent for goods and services, most of us grit our teeth and agree.
Danny Cevallos

Sure, you can read all the fine print, if you have an extra four hours a day. And if you don't agree with Section 109(g)(3) of some online purchase agreement, you can refuse to click -- but then again, who loses? Now, you can't order those commemorative plates or pair of shoes for delivery. None of these contract terms is negotiable. They are all "take it or leave it." Because we all depend on the Internet to a large extent for goods and services, most of us grit our teeth and agree -- Section 109(g)(3) and all.

Contract law has been slow to acknowledge this reality. Courts have upheld these online "agreements" based on the contract principles that consumers should read every page of an agreement before they sign it. That advice is still sound today -- but is it reasonable? Is the only other option to wander the Earth as the lone Luddite, disconnected from progress and civilization? Perhaps contract law should intervene to prevent the mega-corporation from sneaking or forcing contract terms upon an unsuspecting public.

But wait. The social implications of this suggestion are equally ominous: Are we entering an era where citizens cannot be expected to take responsibility for the contracts they enter into? On one hand, it seems wrong that corporations, with their legal teams, should be permitted to impose 50 pages of one-sided terms upon the average Joe. On the other hand, have we the people gotten to the point where we aren't competent enough to be responsible for the contracts we willingly sign?

We the people apparently are not alone. Even Capital One doesn't understand its contracts. Capital One was quick to release a statement saying that it does not visit cardholders, nor does it send debt collectors to homes or offices.

Capital One will maintain that the credit card rules sent to cardholders have the same language as those sent to anyone who buys a car or sports vehicle through a secured loan from the bank. If those buyers default, Capital One has acknowledged that its representatives might actually visit those homes to repossess. That's fine, but why did the cardholders receive the same contracts?

The bank is considering creating two separate agreements because this language doesn't apply to the general cardholder base. That's fine, but why did the change come only after bad press?

Notice one common theme? All the misunderstandings, the accidents and the oversights seem to accrue to the benefit of Capital One. Coincidence? Accident? I'm sure it is. Credit card companies always have their customers' best interests at heart.

And if you're not convinced, just ask them ... when they ring your doorbell.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Danny Cevallos.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1516 GMT (2316 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1340 GMT (2140 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 2153 GMT (0553 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 2305 GMT (0705 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT