NEW YORK — Citigroup intentionally discriminated against Armenian Americans when they applied for credit cards, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said today, as the bank argued internally that Armenians were more likely to commit fraud and referred to applicants as “bad guys” or affiliated with organized crime.
The CFPB found that Citi employees were trained to avoid approving applications with last names ending in “yan” or “ian” — the most common suffix to Armenian last names — as well applications that originated in Glendale, Calif., where roughly 15% of the country’s Armenian American population lives.
As part of the order, Citi will pay $24.5 million in fines as well as $1.4 million in remedies to impacted customers.
In its investigation, the bureau found that Citi employees were instructed to single out applications that had Armenian last names, but then to conceal the real reason on why those applications were denied. Employees would be punished if they failed to flag applications that were submitted by Armenians.
“Citi stereotyped Armenians as prone to crime and fraud. In reality, Citi illegally fabricated documents to cover up its discrimination,” said Rohit Chopra, the director of the CFPB, in a statement.
Citi, based in New York, said a few employees took action while attempting to thwart a “well-documented Armenian fraud ring operating in certain parts of California.”
“We sincerely apologize to any applicant who was evaluated unfairly by the small number of employees who circumvented our fraud detection protocols,” the bank said in a statement. “Following an internal investigation, we have taken appropriate actions with those directly involved in this matter and we promptly put in place measures to prevent any recurrence of such conduct.”