Ding-dong, Cap One calling.
Credit card issuer Capital One isn't shy about getting into customers' faces. The company recently sent a contract update to cardholders that makes clear it can drop by any time it pleases.
The update specifies that "we may contact you in any manner we choose" and that such contacts can include calls, emails, texts, faxes or a "personal visit."
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As if that weren't creepy enough, Cap One says these visits can be "at your home and at your place of employment."
The police need a court order to pull off something like that. But Cap One says it has the right to get up close and personal anytime, anywhere.
Rick Rofman, 71, of Van Nuys received the contract update the other day. He was spooked by the visitation rights Cap One was claiming for itself.
"Even the Internal Revenue Service cannot visit you at home without an arrest warrant," Rofman observed.
Indeed, you'd think the 4th Amendment of the Constitution, which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, would make this sort of thing verboten.
"It sounds really invasive, but I don't think it's a violation of your 4th Amendment rights," said Daniel E. Kann, a Santa Clarita lawyer who specializes in illegal-search cases.
He explained that the amendment applies primarily to searches and seizures by law enforcement, not civilians. A credit card company, in theory, could reserve the right to visit your home or office without a court order, Kann said.
But he emphasized that there are laws against harassment, not to mention stalking, and Cap One could be held accountable under such statutes if, say, it took to inviting itself over for dinner or hanging around your cubicle.
Incredibly, Cap One's aggressiveness doesn't stop with personal visits. The company's contract update also includes this little road apple:
"We may modify or suppress caller ID and similar services and identify ourselves on these services in any manner we choose."
Now that's just freaky. Cap One is saying it can trick you into picking up the phone by using what looks like a local number or masquerading as something it's not, such as Save the Puppies or a similarly friendly-seeming bogus organization.
This is known as spoofing, and it's perfectly legal. As I've written before, the federal Truth in Caller ID Act makes it a crime to use a phony number or caller ID message to commit fraud or cause harm to others.
But it's not against the law to engage in what courts have called "non-harmful spoofing," which includes businesses wearing digital disguises to penetrate a consumer's phone defenses.
Such corporate spoofing is employed primarily by telemarketers. It's weird, to say the least, for this practice to be so publicly adopted by a major credit card issuer.
Emily Rusch, executive director of the California Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocacy organization, said it's especially troubling for Cap One to declare itself a spoofer as people grapple with recent security breaches involving Target, Neiman Marcus and other businesses.
"Now more than ever, consumers need to be able to trust companies," she said.