Credit Card Company Failed To Prominently Disclose Fees In Marketing Materials; Continental to Change Marketing Materials And Refund NY Consumers.
New York, NY - October 30, 2017 - New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced an agreement between his office and credit card servicer and marketer Continental Finance Company, LLC, resolving allegations that the company failed to prominently disclose fees to consumers in marketing materials for its “Surge” credit cards. As part of the agreement, Continental Finance has agreed to improve the disclosures in the direct mail marketing of its "Surge" credit cards and refund the initial annual fee of $125 to more than 150 New Yorkers who activated the card after receiving a written solicitation.
Upon receipt of a consumer complaint, the Attorney General's Office launched an investigation into the materials Continental Finance used to promote the "Surge" credit card, a low-limit line of credit marketed to New York consumers. In written materials, the "Surge" credit card prominently offered a $500 credit limit, but failed to equally disclose that there was an off-the-top first year fee of $125, thereby effectively leaving the consumer with an initial credit limit of only $375.
"Misleading credit card marketing can have a disastrous domino effect for New York consumers, particularly for those new to the credit market or with compromised credit ratings," said Attorney General Schneiderman. "Today's agreement with Continental Finance Company will return money to over 150 New Yorkers and ensure that in the future Continental discloses fees upfront, enabling consumers to make an informed decision about their financial wellbeing."
The Attorney General's investigation revealed that the direct mail marketing materials for Continental’s “Surge” credit card generally consisted of six pages. The first four pages were in full color and advertised various features of the card. The offer of an “initial credit limit of $500" was prominently featured in the first few pages, typically in a large color font.
In the first two pages alone, there were four references to an “initial credit limit of $500.” On the second page, under a large header which read “Features of our Card,” the “initial credit limit of $500” was the first of four features listed. None of these references to the initial credit limit had any qualifiers, asterisks, or other notations indicating that there were other terms which might negatively impact the limit. Despite the repeated claims of a $500 initial limit, New Yorkers who signed up for and received the card had their available credit immediately reduced by the $125 fee.
Under the terms of the agreement, Continental Finance Company, LLC, a Delaware corporation, altered its marketing materials to prominently disclose the upfront fee, and refunded the initial annual fee charged to more than 150 New York consumers. Currently, under federal law, companies like Continental Finance must disclose essential terms in a table format, colloquially known as the “Schumer Box.” In this instance, the federal disclosure followed multiple pages of marketing materials which did not list important items like upfront fees that diminished the initial buying power of the card.
Consumers regularly receive solicitations for credit cards by mail, the internet, and even telephone. It is critically important to read all promotional materials front to back before signing up. Many cards include automatic charges, costs associated with second cards, security deposits, and other fees, which may not be readily apparent at first glance.
New Yorkers who are concerned that they may have been misled regarding credit cards or other consumer issues are encouraged to call the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-771-7755 or contact the office online at ag.ny.gov.
This case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Alicia M. Lendon, under the supervision of Assistant Attorney General In Charge Deanna R. Nelson, both of the Watertown Regional Office. The Division of Regional Affairs is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General Marty Mack.