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Top Credit Card Stories of 2012

Stocks in this article: AXP DFS COF MA V

3. The Libor scandal
The Libor rate-fixing scandal is far reaching for consumers and financial institutions. Regulators are still investigating whether banks rigged interest rates to gain more profits or perhaps reported lower interest rates on loans to appear more financially stable. A rigged Libor rate means millions of people around the world might have unknowingly paid more or less interest than they should have on their mortgages, student loans and credit cards.

Regulators have begun handing down fines. In June, British bank Barclays (BCS) was fined $450 million by U.S. and British regulators. Just recently, Swiss bank UBS (UBS) agreed to pay $1.5 billion in fines for its role in manipulating Libor and other benchmark interest rates. This is one of the biggest fines that regulators have given a financial institution.

4. Crackdowns in deceptive telemarketing practices
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau levied significant fines against American Express (AXP - Get Report), Discover (DFS - Get Report) and Capital One (COF - Get Report) for either misleading consumers into applying for credit cards or into buying add-on services. The actions by the CFPB put $425 million back into the hands of nearly 6 million credit card consumers. In addition to these refunds to consumers, the three issuers had to pay a total of $66.5 million in penalties.

Discover refunded $200 million to their credit card customers for pressuring cardholders into buying expensive payment protection and credit monitoring services. In addition, Discover will pay a $14 million fine. The regulatory agencies reported the company's telemarketers misled customers about the programs, enrolled customers without their consent and led customers to believe the products were free. In some instances, the scripts suggested the cardholders would not be charged until after they had reviewed written materials, but the materials arrived after Discover had already charged the customers for the products.

Capital One agreed to pay up to $150 million to 2 million consumers as a result of the bank's telemarketers deceptively pushing these same credit monitoring and payment protection services. Capital One agreed to pay fines of $60 million to the CFPB and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

American Express had to reimburse an estimated $85 million to nearly 250,000 cardholders who were either misled into paying an old debt because they thought it would be reported to the credit bureaus, promised upfront bonuses from signing up for credit cards, paid illegal late fees or were promised their debt would be forgiven and then denied new credit cards because the debt was not forgiven.

The FTC also cracked down on robocalls that deceived consumers into paying hundreds or sometimes thousands of dollars by claiming they could reduce credit card interest rates in return for an upfront fee. Federal judges in Florida and Arizona temporarily shut down five companies that directed these robocalls to consumers. The FTC said these five agencies could have defrauded consumers out of possibly $30 million over the past few years.

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