A story last week out of Russia about a man who amended a credit card agreement and got away with it makes you wonder if that can happen stateside. The short answer: probably not.
Here's the backstory. Four years ago Dmitry Agarkov scanned and altered a credit card contract to include incredibly favorable terms: zero percent interest rate, no fees and no credit limit. He also wrote in a $91,294 fee if the bank didn't comply with his terms and a $182,589 fee if the bank closed the account. He then signed his altered version and sent it back to the bank, which certified it without noticing the amendments.
Fast forward to the present. Agarkov's bank tried to close the account due to late payments and took him to court, where the judge ruled in the Russian man's favor and upheld his amended contract as legit. Agarkov is now suing the bank for $727,000 for violating the credit card agreement.
Now you're probably thinking: Can I do the same thing? Unfortunately, it would be harder to do so.
First, according to a recent survey by Mercator Advisory Group, nearly half of credit card applications in the last year occurred online, where the agreement can't be changed. Another 34 percent of consumers applied at a retailer or bank branch, where you couldn't discreetly change the contract.
Only 7 percent of consumers mailed in an application, which typically doesn't require a signature on the actual terms and conditions document. When you sign the application and then later the back of your credit card, you are agreeing to the contract that you were sent. There's no opportunity to amend it.
In scanning several terms and conditions in the online database of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, there wasn't any language that explicitly said the consumer couldn't modify terms and conditions. But many agreements do state that the issuer can change the agreement "subject to applicable law." Which means they can change it, but you can't.
In contacting several major card issuers about a consumer tweaking the credit card agreement, Chase spokesman Rob Tacey responded via email saying: "We expect our cardmembers to honor the terms and conditions as outlined in the cardmember agreement."
But he never said you couldn't change the contract. Let me know if you decide to try it, and if it works out.
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