Last week, the FTC announced that NetSpend, one of the nation’s largest providers of prepaid debit cards, had agreed to pay $53 million to settle allegations that it deceived consumers about their ability to access funds loaded onto their cards.
In November 2016, the FTC filed a lawsuit alleging that NetSpend engaged in misleading advertising practices in violation Section 5 of the FTC Act which prohibits unfair or deceptive acts or practices. The FTC’s complaint alleged that NetSpend made misrepresentations in marketing materials and on its website that led consumers to believe that the cards were “ready-to-use,” that they would have “immediate access” to funds loaded onto their cards, and that their money is “always available.” NetSpend also claimed that consumers are “guaranteed approval” for a card.
In reality, many consumers did not receive “immediate access” to their funds as promised, according to the FTC. Some consumers were unable to access their money for prolonged periods of time – sometimes as much as weeks or at all.
While most NetSpend users can purchase a card at a retailer and load money into their account, they are not actually able to access funds loaded on the card right away. Instead, consumers must contact NetSpend to provide personal identification information before the card is fully activated and the consumer can access their funds. In some cases, consumers reported that their cards were not activated even after providing NetSpend with the information. In addition, NetSpend’s claim of “guaranteed approval” proved inaccurate as approval was conditioned upon consumers meeting certain identity verification requirements.
Additionally, NetSpend told consumers that disputed transactions will be eligible for a provisional credit until the matter was resolved. According to the complaint, however, “NetSpend often is slow to resolve account errors, and fails to provide or significantly delays providing provisional credits for account errors.”
As part of the settlement, NetSpend is required to provide at least $53 million in refunds to consumers who purchased and loaded funds onto NetSpend prepaid cards but never had access to their money. Of the $53 million, $13 million will be used to refund fees charged to cards prior to August 31, 2016.
The orders also prohibits NetSpend from misrepresenting to consumers how long it will take, or what conditions are necessary, to activate prepaid cards and have access to funds.