W.Va. Attorney General announces $7.8 million settlement - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

W.Va. Attorney General announces $7.8 million settlement

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West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced through a press release Tuesday that four large banking companies will pay the state $1.95 million each, a total sum of $7.8 million total, to settle lawsuits alleging the companies' credit card protection programs violated West Virginia law.

"This office worked long and hard in the Discover case to protect West Virginia consumers," Morrissey said. "But for that case, we would have never reached a settlement in this matter. Over a number of years, thousands of West Virginians entered into credit card payment protection programs without knowing they had done so, were charged extra fees and then had trouble reaping the benefits. Our Office is committed to ensuring businesses, no matter how large or small, do not take advantage of our citizens or violate the laws."

The settlements were reached three months after the W.Va. Supreme Court of Appeals ruled in the case State ex rel. Discover Financial Services, Inc. vs. Neibert that the Office of the Attorney General had the authority to use special assistant attorneys general in certain cases. The four financial institutions - Bank of America Corp., JP Morgan Chase & Co., Citibank/Citigroup Inc., and GE Money Bank - were parties in that case.
According to the complaint, the banks engaged in misleading and deceptive tactics to enroll customers in payment protection programs, which involved fees of typically 89 cents per $100 credit card balance, adding that bank representatives would ask new card holders whether they were interested in entering a program that would cover minimum monthly payments in the event of a major life change, such as loss of income, spouse or other event. If the cardholder even expressed "interest," he or she was automatically enrolled in the program without being given an ability to review the terms and conditions of the program, including the fee structure, what the program would offer and how benefits would be determined. The banks denied the allegations.
"Our Office will always be aggressive in fighting back against companies that engage in schemes to mislead consumers or knowingly omit facts that would help consumers make the best decisions with their finances," Morrisey stated.
Settlements were not reached with Discover Financial Services, HSBC Card Services or World Financial Network Bank. Claims against those institutions will continue.
Under the terms of the settlement and the Office's agreement with the Governor and the Legislature, the settlement monies will help ensure the Consumer Protection Division has three years of operating revenue; the remainder will be returned to the Legislature.