At the request of the Federal Trade Commission, a federal judge has temporarily halted an operation marketing Visa- and MasterCard-branded stored-value cards from making unauthorized debits from consumers’ bank accounts.
According to a complaint filed by the FTC, the defendants market bank-issued, Visa- and MasterCard-branded stored-value (prepaid) cards under a variety of names through Web sites and pop-up and e-mail advertisements that direct consumers to Web sites for the individual cards. These include Acclaim Visa, Impact Visa, Sterling Visa, VIP Advantage Visa, Vue Visa, Elite Plus MasterCard, Impact MasterCard, Secure Deposit MasterCard, VIP MasterCard, and Vue MasterCard. The defendants also market unrelated short-term loans on Web sites such as www.SuperAutoSource.com, www.SuperCashSource.com, and www.FastCashUSA.com.
The complaint alleges that, through their prepaid card programs, the defendants debited, without authorization, a $159.95 “application and processing” fee from consumers’ bank accounts, including from consumers who either had no contact with the defendants or had applied for an unrelated short-term loan. Consumers who visited the defendants’ prepaid card Web sites were instructed to provide personally identifiable information, including their bank account information, to apply for a card. The defendants allegedly also made deceptive claims on their Web sites, such as “No Annual Fees” and “No Security Deposit,” without disclosing clearly and prominently that they would use the consumers’ personal information to debit the $159.95 fee. Consumers usually discovered the unauthorized debits when they reviewed their bank account statements or when banks notified them of penalty fees or overdraft charges due to insufficient funds.
The defendants are charged with violating federal law by engaging in unauthorized bank account debiting; failing to disclose clearly and conspicuously that consumers’ personal information will be used to debit a fee from their bank accounts, and that the fee will be debited once they apply for a prepaid card; and misrepresenting that consumers are obligated to pay the fee when they did not consent to pay a fee.
On July 30, the judge issued a temporary restraining order barring unauthorized debiting and freezing the assets of EdebitPay, LLC, EDP Reporting, LLC, EDP Technologies Corporation, Secure Deposit Card Inc., Dale Paul Cleveland, and William Richard Wilson, all based in California. The judge will hold a hearing to determine whether to extend the injunction pending a trial. The FTC will seek to permanently bar the defendants from further violations and make them forfeit their ill-gotten gains.
By a 5-0 vote, the Commission approved the filing of the complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendant has actually violated the law. The case will be decided by the court.
The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, click http://www.ftc.gov/ftc/complaint.shtm or call 1-877-382-4357. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,600 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. For free information on a variety of consumer topics, click http://ftc.gov/bcp/consumer.shtm.