Bank Sues CardHub for Using Credit Card Data
A card issuer widely criticized for issuing high rate, high fee cards to lower income and credit-impaired consumers has sued a website dedicated to helping consumers compare credit cards terms.
In its complaint, the Sioux Falls, S.D.- based First PREMIER Bank, along with its card issuing subsidiaries, told the Federal District Court for South Dakota that Evolution Finance, the company that owns a website known as CardHub, had violated trademark law by including information about its credit cards in CardHub’s database.
CardHub is a consumer education website that helps consumers make credit card decisions. It has more than 1,200 different cards in its database, including information from 26 credit union- issued cards, according to a spokesperson.
In its complaint, First PREMIER said it had once had a relationship with CardHub, including an advertising agreement that the bank terminated in early 2011. Subsequently, the bank said CardHub kept using the name of the card and the bank on its site in violation of trademark law.
“Since PREMIER has not had any relationship with Evolution since January 2011, Defendants are not realizing any direct monetary gains through their unauthorized conduct,” according to the bank’s complaint.
“However, upon information and belief, because FIRST PREMIER credit card products can be considered a major, well-known brand, and because consumers have very limited options for sub-prime credit cards, the placement of promotions for FIRST PREMIER credit cards on the Accused Website can result in increased Internet traffic to the Accused Website from Internet users searching for FIRST PREMIER and/or sub-prime credit cards,” the complaint read.
CardHub accepts advertising from some of the card brands in its database but makes that relationship very clear to consumers when looking at the card information, the website said in its brief.
Evolution Finance acknowledged that First PREMIER had once advertised on Cardhub, but said Cardhub had removed the web links, advertising and other indications of a relationship after the bank ended it.
Any trademark law claims the bank makes now are really just aimed at preventing consumers from comparing its cards to other cards, the Evolution Finance argued.
The First PREMIER credit card carries a MasterCard logo, charges an annual percentage rate of 36% and limits new cardholders to a $300 limit, according to the bank’s website.
The bank also charges a one-time application fee of $95 and an annual fee of $75 for the first year that falls to $45 in subsequent years.
“First Premier is trying to prevent consumers from easily comparing First Premier offers against the competition,” said Odysseas Papadimitriou, CardHub’s founder and CEO and a former Capital One senior director and current CEO of CardHub.com and WalletHub.com. “First Premier wants to deprive consumers of access to vital information that would allow them to make intelligent financial decisions.”
Deepak Gupta, the attorney representing CardHub in the suit, said, “This lawsuit is a transparent attempt to keep consumers in the dark, and it raises troubling First Amendment issues.
He added, “The trademark laws are about ensuring fair competition; they don’t entitle companies to censor critical commentary online.”
Gupta, former senior litigation counsel at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is a consumer rights and constitutional lawyer in Washington.
This fight is not the first time the two firms have argued. Papadimitriou denounced First PREMIER when it started charging cardholders a 25% fee for credit line increases.
Over the years, the bank has been criticized for its card pricing and fees and faced legal action due to some of its practices.
In 2007, then New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo won $4.5 million from First PREMIER to settle allegations of deceptive marketing. The bank marketed the card with no upfront fees, but then customers received new cards to find that fees – often totaling more than 50% of the card’s limit – were already on the card.
In 2010, Consumer Reports named a card from First PREMIER “America’s worst credit card,” saying in part, “First Premier’s card now advertises a $25 to $95 processing charge (which fluctuates by the minute, depending on when you click on the card's website).”
The publication also said, “What’s worse is that when you drill deeper into the fine print, you'll find a $75 annual fee and an APR of 23.9 percent to 59.9 percent on purchases and cash advances (again, depending on when you visit the site). So you could face a minimum of $100 or a maximum of $170 in fees in the first year for a card with only a $300 initial credit limit.”