Fine print, Living with credit, New products

Do-it-yourself credit card slips past Russian bank

Jay MacDonald

When 42-year-old Dmitry Argarkov received a credit card offer in the mail, he didn’t like the terms so he decided to write his own.

If you’ve ever been hoodwinked by a seductive credit card offer or unwittingly triggered fines or fees that were buried deep in the fine print of your card agreement, you’ll enjoy the saga of this creative native of Voronezh, Russia, who figured the issuing bank deserved a counteroffer.

Do-it-yourself credit card slips by Russian bank

Taking the card contract in hand, Argarkov simply scanned it into his computer and set about drafting one more to his liking. His revised terms: zero percent interest, an unlimited credit limit and absolutely no fees — at least not to Mr. Argarkov.

But should Tinkoff Credit Systems, the card issuer, fail in any way to uphold its end of the contract, it would be legally bound to pay its new cardholder a fine of 3 million rubles, or $91,263, per infraction. And should the issuer want out of the agreement, it would be obligated to pay Argarkov 6 million rubles, or $182,526, as a parting gift.

Here’s where Argarkov’s adventure turns wonderfully perverse: Like so many millions of credit card holders around the world, the card issuers at Tinkoff failed to read his revised fine print, signed the agreement and issued Argarkov what may be the world’s first Gall Card.

“The bank confirmed its agreement to the client’s terms and sent him a credit card and a copy of the approved application form,” Argarkov’s lawyer told Kommersant. “The opened credit line was unlimited. He could afford to buy an island somewhere in Malaysia, and the bank would have to pay for it by law.”

I can picture the tag line already: “The Gall Card. Don’t buy a tropical island without it!”

Alas, Argarkov’s early retirement plans were delayed, though far from scuttled, when the folks at Tinkoff attempted to close his write-your-own card for nonpayment and counterslap him with a 45,000-rubles fine, or about $1,370, for hidden fees and charges that had escaped his rewrite. How in the world did he miss those?

But last week, a Russian judge held Tinkoff Credit Systems to Argarkov’s contract and reduced the cardholder’s fine to 19,000 rubles, or $578, keeping Argarkov’s island dreams alive.

Before he shoves off for the South China Sea, Dmitry decided to sue his Gall Card issuer for 24 million rubles, or a cool $730,000, for attempting to subvert their agreement and cancel his card. Tinkoff, in turn, is pursuing legal action against its cardholder for fraud.

While I wouldn’t wager a guess on how the court will rule on Argarkov’s suit next month, or even if he’ll one day wind up with his own tropical isle at the issuing bank’s expense, I’m pretty sure he’s paying his legal fees with the card that makes dreams come true.

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