Unexpected refunds for credit card users

January 11, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
It sure looks suspicious. A letter in the mail saying you have $25 coming, and then asks for personal information.

It seems a bit like the Nigerian scam letter, where because of some mysterious reason you are owed money, but rather than $25 million dollars, it offers just $25. Like a lot of come-ons, the more you read into it, the more money you could have coming. 7 On Your Side has been asked a lot of questions -- the main one being, "Is this legit?"

The letter looks official and it comes from the U.S. District Court Settlement Administrator in Philadelphia, PA.

"Sounds like they are giving money away. That's what it looks like to me. It looks like they are giving you money back -- fees that were charged to you on your credit card," says Paul Bracamonte of San Francisco.

"I don't think I should have to pay fees for using my card. I'm already kind of not down with that, anyway," says Michelle Ramirez of Emeryville.

"It looks legit, but I am always skeptical of anything related to class actions," says Andrew Zacks of San Francisco.

"This looks a lot like a 'scammy' request for personal information, but in fact, it's a settlement that you as a consumer are entitled to if you spent money with a credit card or debit card abroad between 1996 and 2006," explains Joe Rideout with Consumer Action.

Rideout says consumers have money coming because the big credit card companies were not up front with consumers about the cost of paying in dollars for an item bought in another currency.

"It was very deceptive for years because credit card companies were, for a long time, not adding this currency conversion fee as a separate line item," says Rideout.

Here's how it worked: An item charged in London -- 100 pounds. Let's say the exchange rate at the time made the cost in U.S. dollars -- $150. But when the credit card bill comes in, it would read $154.50, with $4.50 of that charge attributed to a three-percent currency conversion fee.

Since most consumers don't bother checking currency conversions, the add-on fee often went unnoticed and unchallenged.

"So most cardholders had no idea that this junk fee was being added. The fee represented no additional costs to the banks, but it was being added when you used your credit or debt card abroad," says Rideout.

So there was a lawsuit and a settlement and that's where Al Anolik comes in. One of the nation's premier travel law attorneys, he's been looking into the settlement for 7 On Your Side.

"The credit card companies not only fixed the price of the transaction fee, they upped their base rate before they gave you the fee and they got caught," says Anolik.

And now consumers get at least some of that money back.

All who get this letter have two options. The first requires little travel and all but no effort.

"Take $25, that's all you have to do, say, 'Hi I'm Al Anolik, would you send me $25?"

If you have traveled overseas extensively, Anolik says you could have some real money coming and you don't have to put forth a lot of effort.

"I estimate three weeks in decent hotels, decent amount of purchases, decent food, was 'x' dollars a day, that's what I want my money back. That's all you have to do," explains Anolik.

Al says you don't even have to have left the country, just bought items overseas. Think about all of your eBay purchases.

LINK: Submit a claim form (www.ccfsettlement.com)