STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The banking giant JP Morgan Chase has admitted that it overcharged more than 4,000 active-duty military personnel on their home loans. As first reported by NBC News, the bank also says it mistakenly foreclosed on the homes of 14 soldiers.
As NPR's Tamara Keith reports, members in the military have special protections but in this case, they didn't work.
TAMARA KEITH: Julia Rowles and her husband, Marine Captain Jonathon Rowles, have been fighting with Chase bank for years - basically, ever since Captain Rowles was commissioned as an officer in 2006.
Ms. JULIA ROWLES: They would say, we will take your house. We will report you to the credit agency. This is a bad situation that you don't want to be getting into. Pay us today. They were harassing us for money that we did not owe them.
KEITH: Her husband once got a collection call at 3 a.m. And none of that was supposed to happen. Under a federal law called the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, most troops can get their mortgage interest rates reduced to 6 percent while on active duty, and foreclosures aren't allowed. Rowles says her husband, who is now overseas, was granted the lower interest rate, but Chase didn't adjust its records.
Ms. ROWLES: They kept still charging us 9 and 10 percent, and we were paying upwards to $2,000 when we should have only been paying $1,400.
KEITH: This week, Chase said it would be sending out $2 million worth of refunds to 4,000 active-duty customers like the Rowles, who were overcharged. It also admitted wrongfully foreclosing on 14 homes, and said all but one of those cases has been resolved. Bank officials declined an interview request, but in a statement said, quote: While any customer mistake is regrettable, we feel particularly badly about the mistakes we made here.
But attorney Dick Harpootlian in Columbia, South Carolina, isn't ready to accept the apology. He's one of the lawyers representing the Rowles family in what he hopes will become a class-action lawsuit against Chase.
Mr. DICK HARPOOTLIAN (Civil Attorney): I was a prosecutor for 12 years. Everybody that got caught taking money that wasn't theirs always said they were sorry, offered to give it back and call it even. And that's just not what ought to happen in cases like this.
Ms. ELIZABETH WARREN (Assistant and Special Adviser to the President): This latest incident is further proof of why we need a strong consumer financial protection agency.
KEITH: That's Elizabeth Warren, a special assistant to President Obama. She's putting together the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It was created by Congress to look out for consumers in the wake of the financial crisis, and will also focus on protecting military families.
Ms. WARREN: We need a cop on the beat. The laws are in place, but there's no one to enforce them and no one to speak up for these families. This is just wrong.
KEITH: Warren says the laws exist so service members can concentrate on doing their jobs.
Ms. WARREN: Not be worried about paperwork and bills, and whether or not a loved one is being harassed for money that's not even owed.
KEITH: Yesterday, Warren visited Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, to talk to military families about their financial concerns. She was joined by Holly Petraeus, the wife of General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Mrs. Petraeus was one of the first hires for the new consumer bureau.
Ms. HOLLY PETRAEUS (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau): I really can't think of anything better to be doing while my husband is deployed - forever - than, you know, working on a project like this.
KEITH: She'll head the Office of Service Member Affairs - an office that will be on the lookout for issues like those at Chase.
Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington.
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