FTC Sues Subprime Marketing Company and Debt Collector for Deceptive Credit Card Marketing
The Federal Trade Commission today announced the filing of a lawsuit charging CompuCredit Corporation and its wholly-owned debt collection subsidiary, Jefferson Capital Systems, LLC, with deceptive marketing practices in selling credit cards to consumers in the subprime market.
The FTC’s complaint charges both defendants with violations of the FTC Act and Jefferson Capital with violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Today’s action is the result of a coordinated investigation of the defendants’ marketing practices by the FTC and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. In a related action, the FDIC has issued notice of administrative charges against CompuCredit and two banks that issued credit cards marketed by CompuCredit.
“It is important for all consumers – including those in the subprime market – to have access to credit card products. But the marketing of these products must be truthful; it should not – and cannot – be misleading about the true costs and terms of the credit card,” said Lydia Parnes, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.
As stated in the FTC’s complaint, CompuCredit markets credit cards, primarily through direct mail solicitations, under various brand names, including Aspire, Aspire A Mas, FreedomCard, Tribute, Imagine, Majestic, Aspen, Emerge and Fingerhut Credit Advantage. These cards generally fit into three categories:
Fee-based Visa with $300 limit. According to the FTC, CompuCredit marketed to consumers with subprime credit ratings a Visa credit card with a purported $300 credit limit, using solicitations that stated certain up-front fees that did not apply. Rather than provide consumers with $300 of available credit, CompuCredit immediately charged consumers as much as $185 in fees that it did not adequately disclose in light of the representations made. These fees left consumers with as little as $115 in available credit.
Visa with “up to $3,250” limit. As alleged by the FTC, CompuCredit marketed to consumers with slightly higher credit scores its Visa credit card purporting to offer “up to $3,250” in available credit. CompuCredit failed to disclose, or failed to disclose adequately, that half of the available credit would be withheld for the first 90 days. CompuCredit also failed to disclose, or failed to disclose adequately, that for the first 90 days, the company would monitor consumers’ purchases, and might reduce their credit limit based on an undisclosed “behavioral” scoring model.
Debt-transfer Visa program. According to the complaint, CompuCredit and Jefferson Capital marketed a Visa credit card to consumers with charged-off debt. CompuCredit and Jefferson Capital represented that the consumers’ old debt balance would be immediately transferred to the card and reported to consumer reporting agencies as paid in full. Consumers who accepted the offer, however, were immediately enrolled in a debt repayment plan and did not receive a Visa card until they paid 25 percent to 50 percent of their charged-off debt.
The FTC alleges that CompuCredit violated the FTC Act by misrepresenting the amount of credit that would be available immediately to consumers, failing to disclose up-front fees, failing to disclose that certain purchases could reduce a consumer’s credit limit, and misrepresenting a debt collection program as a credit card offer. Jefferson Capital allegedly violated the FTC Act and FDCPA by misrepresenting a debt collection program as a credit card offer and using abusive collection tactics such as making debt collection calls to individual consumers more than 20 times per day, including before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m., and on Sundays.
The Commission voted 4-0 to authorize staff to file the complaint. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
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 defendants have actually violated the law. The case will be decided by the court.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them.
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Peggy Twohig or J. Reilly Dolan,
Bureau of Consumer Protection