ECONOMY

Banks under fire for credit card charges

Declared abusive by the Supreme Court, the terms of contract used by banks when issuing credit cards nevertheless basically remain as they were, the Cabinet’s General Secretary Socrates Kosmidis told the first conference of the Consumer Protection Law Association yesterday. The subject of the conference was «Law 2251/94 on consumer protection: Eight years later.» According to Kosmidis, banks have responded to competition not by improving their terms of contract but with aggressive sales policies and misleading advertising. Referring to advertising for so-called «holiday loans» or credit cards, he said these are often presented a way that neutralizes any critical judgment on the part of the consumer regarding his/her requirements and financial potential. «We see adverts which bombard us with a low interest rate for the first six months but make no mention of the fact that it doubles thereafter. As a rule, consumers do not have the capacity to compare terms, particularly when these are complex,» he said. Apart from an obligation to inform the consumer, the principle of transparency also means that contractual terms must be worded in such a way as not to create an unclear and confused picture of their content for consumers and not mislead them, said Kosmidis. This also applies to the terms on surcharges. «When a bank grants credit, it is compensated by the interest paid by the consumer at a rate which it itself freely determines. It should not seek additional compensation through an array of other surcharges,» he said. The Supreme Court declared such surcharges cause «confusion over what exactly they are being levied on, lack of transparency, non-comparability with other banks’ terms and a distortion of competition.» Separately, the Consumer Protection Institute (INKA) said yesterday banks’ particularly aggressive policies mislead consumers and cause additional financial burdens which have given rise to a steep increase in complaints recently. If to these are added complaints submitted to the Banking Ombudsman, the Development Ministry and other bodies, the number of complaints is much higher, INKA said. The agency considers it no coincidence that the total debt of Greek households reached a record 25 billion euros in March. «This is due to the non-observance of the principle of protection of the borrower from the lender,» it said. Finally, INKA cautioned that Greeks are fast developing a habit of living beyond their means, which fuels the phenomenon.