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Citigroup to pay $18 million to settle card probe

Bank took $14 million from customers' accounts between 1992 and 2003, state Atty. Gen. Brown says.

August 27, 2008|From the Associated Press

NEW YORK — Citigroup Inc. will pay nearly $18 million in refunds and settlement charges for taking $14 million from customers' credit card accounts, California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown said Tuesday.

Citigroup will make refunds to the 53,000 customers affected and pay $3.5 million in damages and civil penalties to the state of California, which had been investigating the questionable practices for three years, Brown said.

The bank will also pay 10% interest to California customers, who accounted for $1.6 million of the money "swept" out of accounts and into a Citi fund between 1992 and 2003.

Citigroup's "account sweeping program" automatically removed positive balances from customers' credit card accounts, Brown said. For instance, if a customer double-paid a bill by mistake or returned a purchase for credit, the positive balance was taken from the customer without notification, he said.

"The company knowingly stole from its customers, mostly poor people and the recently deceased, when it designed and implemented the sweeps," Brown said in a statement. "When a whistle-blower uncovered the scam and brought it to his superiors, they buried the information and continued the illegal practice."

Citigroup, however, said in a statement that it had voluntarily stopped the computerized "sweeping" practice in 2003 and that it also voluntarily began refunding customers before the settlement.

"We take issue with the state's characterization of our conduct and the parties' voluntary settlement," Citigroup said.

"This agreement affirms our actions, and we are continuing to make full refunds to all affected customers," the bank said.

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