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Why Citibank may owe you money

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Tuesday said that Citi will have to issue refunds to 8.8 million affected consumers who paid for credit card add-on products and services. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

Citibank will pay more than $700 million in penalties for deceiving consumers when it came to debt protection and credit monitoring services they didn’t need or didn’t know they were paying for.

The bank misled consumers into purchasing the protections when they signed up for credit cards or called to cancel other services, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said Tuesday when it announced the penalties. Citi will send refunds to 8.8 million customers who unknowingly signed up for services or who paid for protections they never, or only partly, received. In  addition to the refunds, the bank will pay a combined civil penalty of $70 million to the CFPB and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

“We continue to uncover illegal credit card add-on practices that are costing unknowing consumers millions of dollars,” Richard Cordray, director of the CFPB, said in a statement.

From 2003 to 2012, Citibank marketed and sold services to customers that promised to cancel payments or push back due dates if customers lost their jobs, became disabled or faced other financial challenges. Other products offered credit monitoring and identity protection services.

The bureau also found that Citi often deceived customers about what they were signing up for or made it easier for them to purchase protections without knowing it. For instance, some cardholders were told credit monitoring services would protect them from fraudulent purchases when the protection really only focused on suspicious changes to their credit reports. Through telemarketers, the bank told customers that the service included a free 30-day trial even though they were being charged during that period.

Confusing language on offer screens made it more likely that consumers applying for credit at retailers wouldn’t realize they were buying credit protection at the same time, according to the CFPB. Some customers even were signed up for services they weren’t eligible to receive.

In a statement, Citi said it has been notifying affected customers since 2013 and that it would continue to offer the refunds. The bank said about 2 million customers have already received relief. Customers don’t need to do anything to collect the refunds, which will be issued as a statement credit or as a check sent in the mail. People who have since closed their accounts should expect checks in 2016, according to a spokeswoman.

This is the tenth action the CFPB has taken against major companies for deceiving consumers, including  a $800 million fine against Bank of America last year and a $389 million penalty against JPMorgan Chase in 2013. “We will remain on the lookout for similar conduct and will address it as we find it,” Cordray said in a statement.

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