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Time's running out to claim currency conversion fee refund

Millions paid hidden fees, but few have applied to get money back

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With just a few days remaining before the filing deadline, consumers will need to act fast to in order to get their share of a court-ordered multimillion dollar settlement with four credit card giants over poorly disclosed fees on foreign transactions.

Credit card and debit card users need to file a claim by May 30, 2008, if they hope to get a refund on purchases made in a foreign currency or with a foreign merchant between Feb. 1, 1996, and Nov. 8, 2006. That cutoff, extended from the prior Jan. 9, 2008, deadline, was established in the settlement of a class-action lawsuit that challenged how banks went about fixing and disclosing information on foreign transaction fees, commonly called currency conversion fees, to customers.

Under the $336 million settlement of the antitrust lawsuit reached in July 2006, any holder of a Visa, MasterCard, or Diners Club credit card, charge card, or debit card issued in the U.S. as of Nov. 8, 2006, has the opportunity to apply for a refund. Consumers can either fill out claim forms online at the Foreign Currency Conversion Fee Antitrust Litigation website or dial (800) 945-9890 to have forms mailed to them.

The lawsuit charged that cardholders were not made aware of foreign transaction fees ranging from 1 percent to 3 percent, since they were not itemized on card statements, and that Visa, MasterCard and Diners Club engaged in price fixing. The firms made no admission of guilt.
 
Foreign transaction fees are charges added to the cost of purchases made in a foreign currency. The card issuers said the cost covers the service of translating the price of the purchase into U.S. dollars, which is the amount reflected on a billing statement. They also said they there is greater risk involved for foreign purchases, with such dangers as incorrect currency conversion, merchant charge-backs and fraud more common overseas.

According to court documents, about 42 million current and past account holders had at least one foreign transaction. Notices of the court settlement were sent to about 20 million account holders in monthly billing statements. As of June 30, 2007, only 90,000 individuals, governments or businesses had filed claims. The average claim value is about $110, but the overwhelming majority are seeking $25 or less.

See earlier story: "Foreign transaction fee lawsuit settled."
 

Updated: May 27, 2008


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