June 9, 2003, 12:00 AM

Class action suit challenges credit card companies` fraud tactics and fees

Filing on behalf of all direct merchants, the second case against credit card companies in a month argues that Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover fail to fight fraud and then charge merchants undisclosed fraud-related fees.

Following a lawsuit filed last month with similar complaints, the Triangle Law Center PLLC has filed a class action suit against Visa U.S.A., MasterCard International, American Express Co. and Discover Financial Services Inc. and their member card-issuing banks and merchant acquirers claiming they have failed to take appropriate measures to address fraud in card-not-present transactions and charged merchants excessive transactional and penalty fees. The suit represents all web, catalog and telephone merchants, Triangle says.

The suit also contends that many of the fees were never disclosed to merchants during contracting, but were only stated in unpublished rules and regulations set by the card companies. In addition, the suit argues that, in cases of cyber fraud, the card companies` policies leave direct merchants with no effective means of opposing the imposition of penalties that the companies debit from merchant accounts.

Triangle, a law firm specializing in class-action suits, brought the case in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. It contends that the card companies violated the Racketeering and Corrupt Organizations Act and other laws on business practices. Its suit follows a case brought against MasterCard last month by payments processor Paycom Billing Services Inc., which contends that MasterCard charges unfair penalties against web merchants for fraudulent transactions and chargebacks. MasterCard says Paycom`s suit is baseless. Paycom`s suit came shortly after MasterCard and Visa, in cases brought by major retailers, agreed to drop their accept-all-cards polices and pay damages.

MasterCard says it just received notification of the suit today and will have no comment until it has a chance to review the allegations. Visa, AmEx and Discover did not return calls seeking comment.


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