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ATM operators sue Visa, MasterCard over debit card fees

October 13, 2011 | 10:57 am

A group of automated-teller machine operators is claiming that Visa Inc. and MasterCard Inc., the country’s largest payment networks, fixed the price of ATM access fees.

Visa and MasterCard violated antitrust laws, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court in Washington. To participate in processing networks linked to the two giants, independent operators were prohibited by contract terms from charging lower prices to access smaller competing networks, the complaint filed Wednesday says.

Instead, operators who can tap multiple -- sometimes cheaper -- networks were forced to charge debit-card users the same access fees across the board, according to the suit. 

The price-fixing, according to the suit from the National ATM Council and several operators, artificially hiked the cost of services for consumers and limited revenue for operators. Plaintiffs, many of whom are spread across 200,000 machines at gas stations and convenience stores, are seeking national class-action status and tens of millions of dollars in damages and compensation.

"Visa and MasterCard are the ringleaders, organizers, and enforcers of a conspiracy among U.S. banks to fix the price of ATM access fees in order to keep the competition at bay," said Jonathan Rubin, a managing member with the law firm representing the plaintiffs.

It’s a touchy time for debit-card users, after Bank of America’s recent decision to charge customers $5 a month to use the cards for purchases. This week, several regional and community banks pledged not to impose similar fees.


Debit cards poised to get much costlier

Smaller banks pledge not to impose debit-card fees

Bank of America to charge $5 monthly fee for debit card purchases

-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: A customer uses a Bank of America ATM in Los Angeles. Credit: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images