Last week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) filed a consent order with Fort Knox National Co. and its subsidiary Military Assistance Co. (MAC), alleging that the companies duped U.S. military service members into paying millions of dollars in hidden fees.
Fort Knox National Co., through MAC, is one of the largest processors of military allotments in the nation. Through the allotment system, service members can arrange to have payments to creditors and family members deducted directly from their paychecks. The arrangement facilitates the transfer of funds for service members who may not have easy access to banks or ATMs. In a press release the CFPB noted that “[t]he allotment system was created to help deployed service members send money home … at a time when automatic bank payments and electronic transfers were not yet common bank services.” According to the CFPB, many creditors and lenders “have in recent years been known to direct service members to use the system to collect payments straight from service member earnings.”
The CFPB alleges that MAC routinely charged fees for certain services, but failed to disclose the fees to service members. For instance, MAC allegedly charged processing fees ranging from $3 to $5 when it sent correspondence to service members regarding their account balances. Additionally, MAC allegedly charged recurring fees for residual balances that accumulated in participants’ accounts where debts had been repaid in full but service members failed to stop the automatic deduction from their paychecks. The CFPB alleges that, as a result of these undisclosed practices, “[t]ens of thousands of service members had their money slowly drained from their accounts.”
The consent order requires the companies to pay $3.1 million in relief to affected service members, which could amount to restitution of more than $100 per victim. Fort Knox National Co. began winding down MAC’s allotment business in 2014.