American Express is paying $112.5 million in refunds and fines to settle regulators' accusations that it charged unlawful late fees and deceived customers to pressure them to pay off old debts or buy extra credit card services. The company agreed to the settlements announced today by four federal agencies, including the Federal Reserve and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and Utah regulators. American Express is refunding $85 million to about 250,000 customers and is paying $27.5 million in civil fines.
The agencies said American Express violated federal laws prohibiting deceptive practices by using false statements to get customers to settle old debts. The regulators say that included falsely telling customers that if they agreed to settlements to partially pay off their debts, the remaining balance would be forgiven. The violations were said to have occurred from 2003 to this past spring. An official said the company violated consumer-protection laws "at all stages of the game—from the moment a consumer shopped for a card to the moment the consumer got a phone call about long overdue debt."