Online payments service PayPal illegally signed up consumers for its online credit product, PayPal Credit, formerly known as Bill Me Later, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
The U.S. agency said Tuesday PayPal will pay $15 million in consumer refunds and a $10 million penalty, and it would be required to improve its disclosures and procedures, under a proposed settlement order.
Since 2008, PayPal has offered PayPal Credit to consumers making purchases from thousands of online merchants, including eBay. The CFPB alleges that many consumers who were attempting to enroll in a regular PayPal account, or make an online purchase, were signed up for a credit product without realizing it.
PayPal also failed to post payments properly, lost payment checks, and mishandled billing disputes that consumers had with merchants or the company, the CFPB alleges. The Bureau said tens of thousands of consumers experienced these issues.
Said CFPB Director Richard Cordray, in a statement: “Online shopping has become a way of life for many Americans and it’s important that they are treated fairly. The CFPB’s action should send a signal that consumers are protected whether they are opening their wallets or clicking online to make a purchase.”
Here are the key allegations in the civil action by the CFPB against PayPal:
Deceptively advertised promotional benefits: The CFPB alleges that PayPal failed to honor advertised promotions, such as a $5 or $10 promised credit toward consumer purchases.
Abusively charged consumers deferred interest: The CFPB alleges that PayPal offered consumers limited-time, deferred-interest promotions, and that PayPal purported to let consumers pick how payments would be applied to these promotional balances. But consumers who attempted to contact the company to get more information or request to apply their payments to promotional balances often could not get through to the company’s customer service line or were given inaccurate information. Many such consumers were hit with deferred-interest fees that, due to the company’s conduct, they could not avoid.
Enrolled consumers in PayPal Credit without their knowledge or consent: The CFPB alleges that the company often automatically enrolled consumers in PayPal Credit when those consumers were signing up for a regular PayPal account or making purchases. The company enrolled other consumers while they tried canceling or closing out of the application process. Many consumers ended up enrolled in PayPal Credit without knowing how or why they were enrolled. They discovered their accounts only after finding a credit-report inquiry or receiving welcome emails, billing statements, or debt-collection calls for amounts past due, including late fees and interest.
Made consumers use PayPal Credit for purchases instead of their preferred payment method: The CFPB alleges that the company automatically set or preselected the default payment method for all purchases made through PayPal to PayPal Credit. This meant consumers used PayPal Credit even when they intended to use another method of payment such as a linked credit card or checking account. Other consumers were not able to select another payment method, finding that their purchases were charged to a PayPal Credit account even when they affirmatively selected another payment. Many of these consumers incurred late fees and interest because they did not know they had made purchases through PayPal Credit.
Engaged in illegal billing practices: The CFPB alleges that the company failed to post payments or failed to remove late fees and interest charges from consumers’ bills even when the consumers were unable to make payments because of website failures. Numerous consumers reported that the company lost payment checks or took more than a week to process checks.
Mishandled consumer disputes about payments: The CFPB also alleges that PayPal mishandled consumers’ billing disputes and made billing errors.