At long last, the checks are in the mail.
For the more than 10 million credit card customers who filed claims in an antitrust class-action lawsuit over foreign-currency conversion fees charged between 1996 and 2006, the settlement checks are on the way.
The first checks were mailed to consumers in late November, and the mailings will likely continue into the new year.
Reaching a settlement of the lawsuit, concerning foreign transaction fees charged to cardholders using a Visa, MasterCard or Diners Club-branded payment card between Feb. 1, 1996, and Nov. 8, 2006, took several years of litigation and negotiations.
Plaintiffs claimed that Visa, MasterCard, and their member banks and Diners Club conspired to set and conceal foreign-currency conversion fees, which are typically 1 percent to 3 percent of foreign transactions. The plaintiffs also claimed that Visa and MasterCard inflated their base exchange rates before applying these fees. The defendants denied any wrongdoing.
In November 2009, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York granted final approval of a $336 million settlement.
In October 2011, the Court entered an order authorizing the settlement administrator to disburse the available settlement funds.
And this holiday season, checks to consumers are finally on the way.
Most consumers will receive checks of $18.04, says Bonny Sweeney, one of the attorneys who represented class members in the lawsuit.
"Most settlement checks are for $18.04 because most consumers chose the easy refund claim option. There were three different claim options for consumers. Refund Option 1 provided an easy refund (essentially checking a box) of $25 if sufficient funds were available," Sweeney explained in an email. "More than 7 million claimants chose this option."
A second refund option asked consumers to provide an estimate of the number of days they spent outside of the U.S. during the class period, as well as the frequency and purpose of their travel. A third option used a consumer's credit or debit/ATM cards and applicable foreign transaction fees to determine a refund amount.
Because of the large number of consumer claims submitted prior to the May 30, 2008, deadline, refund amounts had to be readjusted.
"Because the combined value of all the valid claims exceeded the available amount in the settlement fund, all claims (including the Option 1 easy refunds) were reduced pursuant to the court-approved plan of allocation," Sweeney says.
So consumers who checked a box for a $25 refund are receiving checks for $18.04 instead.
If you filed a claim prior to May 30, 2008, be on the lookout for your check. If you don't receive a settlement check by Jan. 31, 2012, you can contact the settlement administrator through the Foreign Currency Conversion Fee Antitrust website, CCFsettlement.com, or write to the following address:
Foreign Currency Antitrust Litigation
P.O. Box 290
Philadelphia, PA 19105