Discover to pay $214 million to settle charges of deceptive marketing

Discover telemarketers followed misleading scripts and sped through disclosure of fees. AP
Discover telemarketers followed misleading scripts and sped through disclosure of fees. AP
Posted: September 26, 2012

More than 3 1/2 million people who used Discover credit cards over the last five years will share about $200 million in restitution for marketing practices that federal regulators say were unfair and deceptive, two federal agencies announced Monday.

The compensation, averaging $57 per cardholder, will go to customers charged for add-on products such as "Payment Protection" or "Wallet Protection." Regulators said telemarketers for the Delaware bank followed misleading scripts and often sped through fee disclosures, leading customers to believe that the bank was touting benefits that came free with their cards.

"Many consumers did not realize that their accounts were actually charged for these products," said Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which brought the case with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Discover also agreed to pay $14 million in penalties to settle the case.

About 4.7 million customers were billed for the services between December 2007 and August 2011, the period covered by the case. As of February, Discover has nearly 21 million active accounts, according to Nilson Report, an industry tracker.

More than a million cardholders will not get restitution because their purchase did not involve telemarketing, they have already received refunds, or they used Payment Protection, which allows payments to be suspended in case of events such as job loss, natural disaster, or a child's birth.

David Nelms, Discover's chairman and CEO, said in a statement announcing the settlement that the bank had "worked hard to earn the loyalty of our card members, and we are committed to marketing our products responsibly."

The case against Discover is similar to the CFPB's first enforcement action, in July, against Capital One, which agreed to pay about $150 million in refunds and $60 million in penalties.

Fees for Discover's Payment Protection are based on a customer's balance. The other products in question - Wallet Protection, Credit ScoreTracker and Identity Theft Protection - generate monthly fees ranging from $2.99 to $9.99.

Since card issuers already have their customers' billing information, complaints about such add-on products often center on disputes over whether customers realized they were agreeing to purchases. Discovers' customers "never had to provide a credit-card number," said CFPB enforcement director Kent Markus.

Cordray said regulators were reviewing similar practices at other card issuers. "We continue to expect that more such actions will follow," he said.

Discover spokesman Jon Drummond said the bank was not currently selling the add-ons by phone but not giving up on them, either. "Discover intends to continue to offer and market the products," he said.


Contact Jeff Gelles at 215-854-2776 or jgelles@phillynews.com.

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