Arrestees Take on Jail Debit-Card Scheme

     PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – Danica Brown entered jail with about $30 in cash, but when she was released eight hours later jailers gave her a prepaid debit card that charged her fees to access her own money, a new federal class action claims.
     Brown is one of thousands of arrestees in the United States who go to jail with cash but leave with debit cards they never agreed to put their money on, according to the July 22 complaint.
     The plaintiff is suing the companies that issue those cards – Stored Value Cards Inc. doing business as NUMI Financial and Central National Bank and Trust Company of Enid, Oklahoma – for violating the Electronic Funds Transfer Act and unjust enrichment.
     Brown was arrested in Portland in November 2014 during a protest against a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown. Police charged Brown with interfering with a peace officer and disorderly conduct but those charges were later dismissed, according to the complaint.
     Upon her release, jailers gave Brown a prepaid debit card with a balance of $30.97, the amount of cash she had on her when she was arrested. A few days later, the card company charged her a $5.95 monthly fee and $0.95 service charge, the complaint says.
     “In order to spend the $30.97 that the jail confiscated, Ms. Brown had to pay $6.90, or 22 percent of the monies the jail took from her,” the complaint states.
     Had Brown tried to cash out her balance and close the card, the company would have charged her $9.95, or 32 percent of her money, the complaint says.
     The prepaid card was the only option jailers gave Brown to retrieve her money, and the cards saddle users with a host of other miscellaneous fees that were never consented to, the lawsuit claims.
     “Defendants have engaged in a pattern of unlawful, deceptive, unfair and unconscionable profiteering and self-dealing with respect to the release cards that they forced upon individuals who are released from jails and prisons,” the complaint states.
     An increasing number of government agencies that handle prisoner funds now use prepaid debit cards to return money to prisoners, and a majority of those agencies say users are charged fees when trying to get cash from a bank, according to an Association of State Correctional Administrators survey cited in the lawsuit.
     Multnomah County Jail, where Brown was detained, started issuing debit cards to released prisoners in 2014 after the sheriff’s office signed a four-year contract with Securus Technologies, Inc. and launched a debit-card system run by defendant Stored Value Cards, according to the complaint.
     Neither the county nor the sheriff’s office are parties to the suit.
     Stored Value Cards contracts with defendant Central National Bank and Trust Company as the issuing bank for its NUMI debit cards and works with MasterCard as the payment networks sponsor, the complaint says.
     Brown seeks class action certification, a declaration that the defendants broke the law, damages and restitution for ill-gotten gains.
     Stored Value Cards Inc., Central National Bank and Trust Company, and Brown’s attorney, Benjamin Haile of the Portland Law Collective in Portland, did not immediately return requests for comment.

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