Umpqua Bank in Portland, Ore., has become the latest bank to be sued for allegedly manipulating the way in which it processed debit card transactions in order to rake in more overdraft fees.
In a class-action suit filed Thursday in the San Francisco/Oakland Division of the Northern District Court of California, Umpqua is accused of intentionally processing debit transactions from highest to lowest in order to quickly deplete customers' accounts, thus triggering overdraft fees. The suit was initiated by California resident Amber Hawthorne, who says Umpqua's practices cost her hundreds of dollars in overdraft fees.
Umpqua's general counsel, Steven Philpott, said that the bank had not yet been served with the suit so he could not comment specifically on it. In an interview, Philpott said that the bank does not post transactions highest to lowest, though he acknowledged that it had done so "in certain buckets" before recently changing its policies.
He also noted that overdraft fees should not come as a surprise to customers since new regulations that took effect last year require banks to first have customers' permission before they can cover overdrafts.
Umpqua Bank, a unit of Umpqua Holdings Corp., has $11.8 billion of assets and more than 180 branches in Oregon, Washington, Northern California and Nevada.
The class-action one of dozens filed recent years that accused banks of processing transactions in a way that would maximize overdraft fees.
The bulk of the suits have been rolled into a single class-action in Florida, but several banks, including Bank of America, Union Bank of California, Commerce Bank in Kansas City, and Associated Bank in Green Bay, Wis., have recently settled claims out of court.
More suits against banks could be forthcoming.
Tycko & Zavareei, the Washington, D.C., law firm leading the class-action against Umpqua, said in a news release Thursday that it is also investigating the overdraft practices of other banks in the western U.S.
"Customers must be compensated for bank practices that caused millions of dollars in improperly charged fees," Hassan Zavareei, a partner in the law firm, said.