WASHINGTON - Federal officials are seeking more than $200 million in fines and restitution from CompuCredit Corp. and two banks that allegedly engaged in deceptive credit card marketing practices.
The Federal Trade Commission and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said yesterday that CompuCredit and the banks had failed to adequately disclose up-front fees and other conditions when marketing cards under Aspire, FreedomCard, Tribute, and other brand names.
The cards were largely marketed to people with weak credit histories, also known as the subprime market, regulators said.
"It is important for all consumers - including those in the subprime market - to have access to credit card products," said Lydia Parnes, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "But the marketing of these products must be truthful."
The FTC alleged that CompuCredit, of Atlanta, marketed a Visa card with a $300 limit, but charged $185 in fees without adequate disclosure. That caused card users to unintentionally exceed the limits and incur penalties, adding to their debt, Parnes said.
The FDIC said it was seeking up to $200 million in restitution from CompuCredit and two banks: First Bank of Delaware, based in Wilmington, Del., and First Bank & Trust, based in Brookings, S.D.
Hundreds of thousands of consumers may be eligible for refunds, said FDIC board member Thomas J. Curry.
CompuCredit said in a statement that it would "vigorously contest" the charges, which the company claims "are untrue and without merit."
The company also said the FDIC had previously responded to consumer complaints by stating that CompuCredit's marketing materials complied with the law.
Representatives from the two banks did not immediately return calls for comment yesterday afternoon.
The FTC has sued CompuCredit in federal court, while the FDIC has begun administrative proceedings against the company and the two banks. A third bank, Columbus Bank & Trust Co., of Columbus, Ga., has paid a $2.4 million penalty to settle the FDIC's charges, the agency said. Columbus Bank & Trust is owned by Synovus Financial Corp.
Read the FTC complaint (.pdf) at http://go.philly.com/CompuCredit
Read the National Consumer Law Center report "Fee-Harvesters: Low-Credit, High-Cost Cards Bleed Consumers" at http://go.philly.com/creditcards