Man Tries To Beat Bank At Its Own Game With Fine Print That Gives Him Unlimited Credit

When it comes to fine print on user agreements and terms of service, I’ve found that there are those who blame companies for making these documents so long and complicated that most people will never read them (and might not even be able to understand the terms even after reading them), and then there are those who say consumers can’t complain if they don’t first read and understand everything they agree to. Here’s a story out of Russia that should appeal to both sides of that debate.

RT News has the story of a man who looked at an unsolicited credit card offer from Tinkoff Credit Systems back in 2008 and wondered what would happen if he signed the agreement, but only after writing in his own additional terms by hand.

Among the amendments in his version of the contract — unlimited credit, 0% APR, no fees, including the stipulation that he “is not obliged to pay any fees and charges imposed by bank tariffs.” Since the contract included a URL for a web page containing the full terms of service, the customer also wrote in a new URL of his own so that the bank couldn’t just say “but these terms are different than what’s published on the site.”

Per the amended terms, every change to these terms would result in a payment of 3 million rubles ($91,000) to the customer, or a cancelation fee of 6 million rubles ($182,000).

A pretty sweet deal. No way Tinkoff would agree to it.

But of course Tinkoff did agree to it, because it did exactly what most of its customers do — accepted this contract without reading it.

“The opened credit line was unlimited,” said the man’s lawyer. “He could afford to buy an island somewhere in Malaysia, and the bank would have to pay for it by law.”

He didn’t buy that island, but he did use the card for two years, racking up only $1,363 (including interest and fees) during that time. Not bad, considering the sweetheart deal he’d written for himself. But of course he wasn’t paying that amount because he maintained that he had a 0% APR and could theoretically just keep making charges on the sheer promise that he’d pay up someday.

And so Tinkoff sued the customer. However, the court held that his amendments were binding since the bank accepted them, whether it looked at them or not. The court said the customer only owed the principal balance of around $575.

Perhaps emboldened by this victory, the customer then sued Tinkoff for a whopping $727,000 for its failure to honor the amended agreement and for not paying out the agreed-upon penalty of $182,000 when it canceled his account.

“They signed the documents without looking,” explains his lawyer. “They said what usually their borrowers say in court: ‘We have not read it.’”

Tinkoff insists that it will be vindicated and that the customer will ultimately get four years in prison for fraud instead of the pile of cash he sought.

“We don’t have small print, everything is clear and transparent,” wrote the bank’s founder on Twitter. “Try to open a card – then we’ll talk. Stealing is a sin – in my opinion, of course. Not all in Russia think so.”

RT News says the next hearing in this case will be in September.