An Alabama man is seeking class-action status for a lawsuit accusing the computer retailer Gateway Inc. of offering customers its MBNA-cobranded credit card without disclosing the annual interest rate.
MBNA Corp., whose MBNA America Bank of Wilmington, Del., issues the card, is not named as a defendant.
Marvin R. Hamm, the plaintiff, said that when he received the MasterCard product and discovered its interest rate was 26.99%, he tried to cancel the account by returning the computer he had bought with the card. According to his complaint, Gateway refused to take the computer back.
Steven Schulman, a partner in the New York law firm of Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach LLP who is representing Mr. Hamm, said the practice is common at Gateway. He filed suit Oct. 11 in a San Diego state court.
Since his firm began publicizing the lawsuit, "we have had a very large response from other people who have similar gripes," Mr. Schulman said. He would not specify the number but said the firm has found "widespread" evidence that the San Diego-based retailer engages in the practice.
The lawsuit alleged that Mr. Hamm got a Gateway brochure in the mail promising a competitive interest rate on a Gateway "Moola" MasterCard and offering both credit card and personal loan financing options. He bought a computer by phone from a Gateway customer service representative and requested financing.
The complaint alleged that the Gateway representative who took Mr. Hamm's credit application told him financing was approved but did not tell him the interest rate, whether he would get a credit card, or whether he had been approved for a consumer loan.
Mr. Hamm said he still had not gotten a statement with the details of his loan 30 days after receiving his computer. He alleged that he learned the interest rate only when he received the card along with a statement.
He decided the interest rate was unacceptable and called Gateway's toll-free number to return the computer and cancel the card but was told that company policy does not allow computer returns after 30 days, the lawsuit said.
Mr. Schulman said that his client did not speak to any MBNA representative. An MBNA spokesman declined to comment on the case.
The lawsuit stated that a Gateway employee identified only as Latisha told Mr. Hamm that the company had received many complaints from angry customers over the issue of undisclosed interest rates. Latisha allegedly told him: "Gateway salespeople are pressured to sell the Moola MasterCard because they will get bigger commissions, and that is how they earn much of their income."
A spokesman for Gateway said that the company disagrees with the allegations and will defend itself vigorously.
Anita L. Boomstein, a partner in the New York law firm of Hughes, Hubbard & Reed LLP, said that concealing interest rates is illegal and that the situation alleged in the suit does not sound typical.
"I can't see that it would be a Gateway employee" who would process credit card applications, she said.
Either way, the Truth-in-Lending law requires disclosure of interest rates, Ms. Boomstein said. The circumstances alleged in the suit "don't sound correct," she said.