Pennsylvania Credit Union Faces Lawsuit Over ATM Disclosures
If you don't know the answer to that question, now might be a good time to find out because a credit union in Pennsylvania faces a class action suit claiming it has illegally collected ATM fees from at least one of its machines that did not carry the required warning.
According to court documents, Daniella Helkowski withdrew cash from an ATM at the headquarters of the $591 million Clearview Federal Credit Union in Moon Township, Pa., and she alleged that Clearview charged her $2.25 for the transaction.
Helkowski charged that the credit union did not have a notice posted about the fee on or at the ATM as required by the Electronic Funds Transfer Act. Without such a written notice, Helkowski argued, the credit union is forbidden to charge a fee for the transaction. She has filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of herself and everyone else who was charged a fee for a transaction at the ATM.
Helkowski's complaint quoted the EFTA to the effect that a notice about an ATM's fees "shall be posted in a prominent and conspicuous location on or at the automated teller machine at which the electronic fund transfer is initiated by the consumer."
The EFTA also requires, according to Helkowski's complaint, that any fee notices "shall appear on the screen of the automated teller machine or on a paper notice issued from such machine, after the transaction is initiated and before the consumer is irrevocably committed to completing the transaction."
A spokesman for Clearview declined to comment on the allegations, pointing out that the CU had only recently learned of the litigation and referred all questions to the credit union's attorney, Rhonda Sudino, a lawyer with the Pittsburgh firm Robb Leonard Mulvihill. "We are only at the very beginning of this litigation, so it would really be inappropriate for me to say anything about it," Sudino said.
Connie Trudgeon, vice president of operations of CO-OP Financial Services, expressed surprise that a credit union would be named in such a suit because, as a rule, credit unions take consumer disclosure requirements very seriously.
"This is a regulation put into place to protect consumers who are not members or customers of the institution that deployed the ATM," Trudgeon said. "The presumption was that consumers or customers at the deploying institution would have already learned of their institution's ATM fees when they opened their accounts, but consumers from other institutions would not be able to do that."
Jim Hanisch, an executive vice president with CO-OP Financial Services, speculated that the law and regulation might need to be changed to keep up with technology.
He argued that the original regulation had been put into place when the amount of information an ATM could display on a screen was limited by the screen's small size. Since then, he explained, the newer ATMs have begun to carry much larger screens that could adequately notify consumers about any potential surcharge. He also suggested that industry standards have begun to drift toward an interpretation of the law that would make the notices on machines obsolete-even though such an interpretation might not be supported in the law.
Court documents show that Helkowski has also filed almost exactly the same complaint against the Sewickley Savings Bank, headquartered in Sewickley, Pa., alleging that on May 6 she withdrew cash from an ATM at the bank's headquarters branch that did not carry a disclosure.
Phone calls to Helkowski and the firm that represents her, Carlson Lynch, were not returned by press time, but Bruce Carlson, a lawyer with the firm, argued in an article in The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that such lawsuits are part of what Congress intended when it passed the EFTA.
"The overwhelming majority of financial institutions and ATM operators are in compliance with the law," the paper quoted Carlson as saying. "But the law speaks for itself. The requirements are unambiguous."
Carlson argued that legislators encouraged lawsuits as an enforcement tactic because the government lacks the resources to make sure each machine complies with the law, the story reported.
"These lawsuits and publicity will make sure everyone soon is in compliance," Carlson said.