Sept. 27, 2007
Statement of Troy Cornock, a consumer victimized by binding mandatory arbitration
If you had told me 10 years ago I’d be on Capitol Hill, telling people about my own personal finances, I’d have laughed. But the reason this regular guy from New Hampshire, Troy Cornock, came down here is no laughing matter. The credit card industry, and in my case, MBNA or Bank of America or whatever the billion-dollar superpower calls itself now, has been a wrecking ball in my life for the past decade. It barged in uninvited, brought along some heavy-hitting arbitrators lawyers, and has just kept coming back for more, pretty much ruining my credit history in the process, even though I never signed up for its card or made one single charge on it.
In 1995, my ex-wife and I separated. Three years later, I got a call from MBNA, a nice guy actually, who told me I owed money, to the tune of more than $9,000. Turns out, my ex-wife had signed up for a card in my name, and because the statements were going to her house, I was none the wiser. I told the guy, “It’s not my card. It’s not my debt.” In fact, my ex-wife admitted it was her credit card and made electronic payments through her checking account. And you know, I really think he believed me. But this ordeal has taught me that it doesn’t matter what two human beings agree to. The conversation is between you and this giant corporation – and the giant corporation will always try to drown you out.
But back then, I just gave the guy my new address and asked to have my name taken off the account. End of story … I thought.
In 2001, an Airborne Express driver saw a package addressed for me at my ex-wife's house, and knew I didn't live there. So he asked around the small town where I live and brought it to me. The letter informed me that my case had been turned over to an arbitration firm. Reading that, it was just like “blah blah blah we’re coming after you, you must do this, you must do that, blah blah blah.” I had no idea why this firm, not MBNA, was coming after me, but it all sounded the same. I told them, in a letter, the same thing I’d told MBNA: Not my card, not my debt and I gave them my correct address.
And then I heard nothing for two years. I thought it was all over.
Wrong again. I’ll never forget this. It was an August night, I was eating dinner and a sheriff pulled up. I thought he was going to ask for directions – I had no reason to think he’d be there for me. But he a letter saying that MBNA had a judgment against me based upon an arbitration award and wanted weekly payments.
Turns out, arbitration firms like staying under the radar and holding hearings in secret “settling” their cases in secret. But mine was even a secret to me, since MBNA and the arbitration company didn’t send anything to my correct address, even though they both had it.couldn’t even get my address right Apparently my case was decided without my even knowing about it. For two years, my “case” was being reviewed without my even knowing about it. And even if I’d been contacted, I still would have had an uphill battle. They were making decisions way outside of a courtroom, at a fast clip, and almost always coming down on the side of the credit card companies – which isn’t that big of surprise since they’re the ones who hired them in the first place.
Until then, I just thought that if I told the truth enough, all this would right itself. But that wasn’t happening. I had to fight. I was trying to build a new life with my girlfriend, now my wife, and we were trying to buy a house. But I couldn’t even borrow a nickel from my bank.
Buying a house is supposed to be the American Dream, but my American Dream was turning into a repetitive nightmare. And it was all because this giant company, and its hired gun, the arbitration firm, wouldn’t hear me out.
MBNA shouldn’t be able to turn over its dirty work to arbitration firms – especially since customers usually have no idea what an arbitration firm is. Sure, it’s in the contract you sign, but that fine print should be in big old bold print, warning you. In my case, they held an arbitration hearing even though I didn’t sign a contract agreeing to arbitration. MBNA should listen to its customers, not to the marketing pitches of these arbitration companies who want its business.
But that’s not the way the system works. And we need to change that. I didn’t give up, and I finally won. But what about all the people who don’t have time to fight, who are working two jobs and trying raise a family and don’t know what to do when they get these letters full of threatening, official language from some arbitration firm. That’s why I’m here. We shouldn’t have to fight for rights that are already ours.
*Delivered at a press conference on Capitol Hill.